Sitemeter

Sunday, June 29, 2014

TEAM ECUADOR: From the Black Ghettos to World Cup Competition



I have social, sentimental, and Afro-centric reasons for loving Team Ecuador

When I off-boarded my plane in Quito, Ecuador, the security staff detected a large can of insect repellant in one of my bags. They were impressed when I told them that I'm going to Valle de Chota (Chota Valley), a hot, sticky region consisting of Ecuador's black ghettos that produces big time soccer stars in national and international competition. Although, Ecuador was eliminated in the most recent World Cup competition (2014) with one win, one loss, and one tie against France, one of the world's toughest teams, Team Ecuador remains my sentimental favorite.

In my Spanish-speaking Facebook account, I posted the following message and repeated it in English on my English account:

“No soy Ecuatoriano; sino hincha del Equipo Ecuador, sobretodo los Choteños.”
“I'm not Ecuadorian; but a fan of Team Ecuador, especially of those from Chota Valley

I'm sure those who read those messages were wondering about my true nationality. Even my supervisor at work alluded to the fact that the Team USA is also playing, aren't I a fan of them?. Well, I am an American and also a US Navy veteran having served my country overseas under oath to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic, so it's not a question of patriotism. I have social, sentimental, and Afro-centric reasons for loving Team Ecuador. 

 
El Juncal in Ecuador's Chota Valley

It was Saturday, December 5, 2009 when I stepped off the bus in the town of El Juncal, in the Valle de Chota (Chota Valley) region of Ecuador. I immediately felt very much at home in a community where everyone looks like me, even though it was evident from my Spanish, my attire, and my overall demeanor that I am not from around those parts, let alone Ecuador. At first, people were suspicious of me, then that changed once we started communicating. Even the police officers who questioned me about my presence were pleased.


Agustín Delgado

Chota Valley is Ecuador's second largest black community behind Esmeraldas. This is the hometown of 30 or more of Ecuador's top soccer stars such as the retired Agustin Delgado, the all-time leading scorer for the Ecuadorian national team. He was named by Ecuador's president as head of the Afro-Ecuadorian Development Council as Delgado, and other Afro-Ecuadorian soccer stars hope to use their influence to improve the overall quality of life in their country's black communities. Nationally, 70% of Afro-Ecuadorians live in poverty, and in towns like El Juncal, where they only have two paved roads, no high school, or permanent medical clinic, the number is as high as 99%El Juncal has struggled against an endemic of racism which has left it perhaps the poorest community in Ecuador. 


The soccer field where boys practice

Augustín Delgado established La Escuela de Fútbol (the Soccer School) in El Juncal where more than 300 boys and young men arrive every afternoon to hone their skills. There is always a game going on as they practice endlessly. In some ways, poverty has proven to be a successful training method because soccer balls roll faster down the dirt lot in El Juncal than they would on a grass field in a big high-end stadium. Therefore, players must learn speed and control. The school, however, is not only interested in providing young black men with a way out of the ghetto to the bright lights of soccer stadiums. There is an emphasis on building self-reliance, self-esteem, and literacy. 

Like most Latin Americans, Ecuadorians ardently love soccer. In 2002, Ecuador's national team qualified for the first time for the World Cup finals – a fact attributed to the slow integration of Afro-Ecuadorians. For many towns in Chota Valley, success on the soccer field remains the best hope for receiving government attention. And that attention has just begun to happen.