The Cultural Diversity of Ecuador, Here in NYC

Ecuador, like the United States, is a country blessed with a vast, diverse population and a variety of rich cultures. El Diario La Prensa examined the practices and traditions brought to the New York area by expatriates from the South American nation. Below is a translation of the Spanish article, by reporter Juan Fernando Merino.                                      

A typical dance of the Ecuadoran mountain region was performed at a show in New York. (Centro Cultural Ayazamana via El Diario)

Ecuador isn’t located at the center of the globe for nothing. Despite being relatively small and not very populated, this beautiful and welcoming country is, without a doubt, one of the nations on the South American continent with the most ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and gastronomic diversity, among many other characteristics.

On the one hand, the country’s vast geographic, climatic, and territorial diversity should be emphasized when considering the sizeable cities and towns in the mountains, high plateaus and peaks of the Andes, the Pacific coastline, the inland rivers and the Amazon river basin. On the other hand, the surprising diversity among the people should also be noted.

Because of intermarriage between native Ecuadorians, Europeans, and Africans – which has occurred in other countries throughout the Americas – Ecuador has about 20 indigenous ethnic groups that, for the most part, conserve their language, roots, and ancestral traditions.

Members of cultural, civic and folkloric organizations that operate in the tri-state area explained that Ecuadorians try to maintain a sense of identity, both within and outside the country.

“The presence of Ecuadorians in this region is very important for various reasons,” said Fanny Guadalupe, president of the Sisa Pakari cultural center. One of the center’s main goals is to make sure that children of immigrants don’t lose their culture and identity.

“Above all, the Ecuadorian community is hard-working; after the banking crisis in 2000, the community started helping the country immensely by sending remittances. Of the 22 indigenous ethnic groups in Ecuador, there are at least 10 in the New York area.”

That is how Ecuadorians from the three main regions in the country – the sierras, the coast, and the Amazon – came to live in New York. In many instances, they are passionately committed to keeping their customs, roots, and celebrations alive. For people from the sierras, the most important annual holiday is the thousand-year-old Inti Raymi festival, which coincides with the summer solstice in the United States. Along with ethnic groups from other regions, members of Andean communities give thanks to Mother Nature, known as Pacha Mama, for the blessings she provides.

Immigrants from the Ecuadorian Amazon that live in the tri-state area – the majority of them belonging to the Shuara ethnic group – haven’t only managed to keep their customs, language, and identity alive, but their culinary traditions as well, which includes food and drinks made from the yucca plant.

However, unlike the festival of Inti Raymi, the holidays of the Ecuadorians from the Amazon are celebrated in smaller groups, more at the family level. Their traditions include sacred baths, which are places for cleansing and revitalizing, and to mark the beginning of the New Year, they commemorate the Fiesta de la Chonta.

As for the coast, although traditions such as the montubio rodeos haven’t taken root in the tri-state area, the people from this region continue to nurture their richly varied music and dance traditions such as pasacalles, aires finos, and marimbas, in addition to exquisite regional cuisine. This was explained by Esaú Chauca, executive director of the Ayazamana Cultural Center, which aims to revive and preserve the dances and particular music of each one of Ecuador’s regions.

“Our country is very multicultural,” said Chauca, “and that’s why we want the new generations, especially the children born in America, to remember their past and their ancestors.”

Nevertheless, within the enormous diversity of the Ecuadorian community in the New York region, there is also a considerable amount of unity. This can be seen during the annual parade in Queens that celebrates the country’s independence.

“Ecuadorian immigrants in New York understand what diversity and respect for others mean,” said Clever Borja, one of the founders of the International Ecuadorian Alliance. “With New York being such a cosmopolitan city, the community comes together when it needs to. Despite the differences that might exist because of regionalism and divisiveness, here we overcome those types of barriers. We are united by what we have in common; we look beyond differences.”

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