Friday, April 29, 2011

Ecuadorians in the Hood

Soccer stars such as Agustin Delgado put his small black community of Valle de Chota on the map.

My First Encounter with the Black Ecuadorian Population
It took longer than expected for me to arrive in Quito, Ecuador from Lima, Perú by bus. As a traveler who enjoy exploring black cultures and the black experience in Latin-American countries, I only had limited time (approximately six days) and a choice between two areas. I could visit Esmeraldas, Ecuador, which is a predominately black province where the people are descendants of ex-slaves who successfully revolted against the Spanish to earn their freedom, or I could go up into the Andes Mountains and visit a little town called Valle de Chota, where this all-black town are descendants of emancipated slaves. This the town also produce many of Ecuador's soccer stars.

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I had a nice little cultural exchange with local youth who gave me the rundown on their community and asked about my community in the U.S.

A funny thing happened while riding the bus from Quito to Valle de Chota, a black community in the Andes. As I went towards the back to use the restroom, I struck up a conversation with one of the many black passengers. They all noticed my non-Ecuadorian accent and began to pay close attention. When I "busted" some English, they all fell out laughing in astonishment as though they never heard a black person speak English before.
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Future world class soccer stars involved in a pick-up game.

My reception by the people of Valle de Chota was mixed. The fact that I was a total stranger entering the area cold and speaking Spanish with a funny accent made some people nervous. One lady went to get the police at the station right next door to her shop. I wished I could have taken her picture the way she wagged her finger and shook her head as if to say, “don’t bring your touristy ass up in here!” Instead, I ended up taking pictures of the police officers at the station as I explained why I was in their town. The officers thoroughly understood. I gave them each a Barack Obama post card and an Oakland, CA post card. I found this gesture to be very much appreciated throughout my travels in Latin America.

People were suspicious of me until we began to chat

As I walked around, I can see the looks I was getting from people as though they were wondering if I were Five-0 (an undercover cop checking them out). Then, of course, there were others who felt better about my presence once we began to chat. When I left Chota later in the afternoon, I felt so exhilarated to have to met and chatted with friendly men, women, and children as they gave me information about their community, and especially about their star soccer players. I was told about some venues where I could party that evening in Valle de Chota, and get a better feel for their culture; unfortunately, I already made a commitment to be back Quito with my friend Gloria who was giving a going-away party for her son headed for school in the Netherlands.
Valle de Chota Cops wanted to know what I was doing in their hood.

I got the impression that blacks in Valle de Chota were more in touch with their heritage than those in Quito. I remember asking blacks in Quito about the location of the Afro-Ecuadorian Museum, and they would immediately turn to a non-black Ecuadorian and ask about its location as though they themselves were oblivious to their own heritage.

Team Ecuador--Whipping Poland in 2006 World Cup