Wednesday, September 28, 2011

National Afro-Ecuadorian People's Day

In the combative spirit of María Chiquinquirá, we advance together in the struggle for our rights. --Luzmila Bolaños

Today, the first Sunday in October, Black Ecuadorians honor their ancestors by celebrating the National Day of Afro-Ecuadorian People. The festivities include athletic competitions, concerts and an Afrocentric religious services. This day was established by Ecuador's National Congress for the purpose of improving human rights conditions of Afro-Ecuadorians. Various civil rights organizations, such as Corporación de Desarrollo Afroecuatoriano (Corporation of Afroecuatoriano Development) sprung up to preserve Afro-Ecuadorian culture and to pursue equal rights as members of Ecuadorian society.

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Afro-Ecuadorians in Valle de Chota (Chota Valley) of the Andes Mountains are descendants of emancipated slaves, unlike those in the western Province of Esmeraldas.

When 23 African men and women aboard a wrecked Spanish slave ship headed for Perú liberated themselves and created a free Black community, in October 1553, they set a standard of resistance and empowerment that would in spire their descendants hundreds of years later. Traditionally, as a country colonized by Spain, blacks were victims of racist conduct, social insults, and considered inferior. Today, employers advertise for job applicants with a "good appearance," a code-word for White or European characteristics. Landlords openly reject applications from Blacks looking for housing in middle-class areas. It wasn't until 1998 until Ecuador's constitution acknowledged Afro-Ecuadorians as a distinct group.

Most of Ecuador's blacks, descendants of runaways from an abandoned slave ship bound for Perú, live in the province of Esmeraldas on Ecuador's Pacific Coast.

Yet, Afro-Ecuadorians have many examples of the rich cultural heritage of black people that has been shown in all scopes of society, such as politics, sports, literature, music, etc. Their ancestors arrived from Africa and its contribution in music with traditional instruments like the marimba; colorful attires, their prolific dancers, their history, traditions, and their own customs. Government statistics say that the black population in the country constitutes on three percent, but in reality, more like nine percent. In Ecuador, there are black communities in provinces of Imbabura, Carchi, Loja, and Esmeraldas. Social activists say the stereotypes and lack of opportunity are slowly changing as the numbers of Afro-Ecuadorians finishing high school and going on to college have increased over the past decade.