My parents and many of their family members arrived to the United States about 4 years before I was born. Growing up I had a tight-knit family in a Spanish-speaking environment where I came to value family relations and Mexican traditions. Catholic religious holidays came to be a staple of my childhood as did the rich variety of Mexican dishes that are not typically found in restaurants. From my parents and their struggle as immigrants working in a new country, I learned the value of hard-work and sacrifice at a very young age. Because of my parents’ sacrifice, for most of my life I was fortunate enough to have privileges that endowed me with opportunities that many others could only dream of. It is also because of these sacrifices that I felt compelled to give back to the world in any way that I can; thus began my journey.
In January of 2017 I arrived in Ecuador as part of Peace Corps, though the application process had been a grueling and paperwork-filled journey since January 2016. Upon arrival in the capital city, Quito, I noticed many similarities between Ecuador and places that I am familiar with in Mexico. As I began to interact with new people I also began to see many cultural similarities between Mexican and Ecuadorian culture.
Unlike other places that I have traveled to, Mexico is well known in Ecuador; in fact Mexican media with shows such as Chavo del Ocho and bands like Maná have become as much a part of Ecuadorian society as domestic bands.
It’s because of these details that I quickly became comfortable in this new country despite never having visited prior. As it turns out Mexican Spanish is relatively similar to the accent of Quito and other parts of the mountains though the accent on the coast takes some getting used to, even for other Ecuadorians. Furthermore physically people from Ecuador and Mexico tend to look similar due to a long history of mestizaje (mixing of distinct cultures); this in turn has had the effect of allowing me to blend in very well or at least relative to other volunteers.
However this appearance also has its disadvantages such as people being reluctant to believe that I am a foreigner or questioning how I can be American if I look like an Ecuadorian. Thus despite knowledge of Mexico and its media, Ecuadorians also watch American media which tends to not have the best track record when it comes to representing minorities; in so doing making it difficult for people to understand that the United States is not merely white people but a myriad of different cultures and people.
Despite similarities there are notable differences in culture such as the general lack of spicy dishes that are on par with those of Mexico or the pervasiveness of rice as a staple food in Ecuador. Gastronomically there is a great variety of food in Ecuador with all sorts of different flavors that vary between the Oriente (Amazon), Costa (Coast) and Sierra (Mountains). There is also quite a few linguistic differences especially for food: tortillas in Ecuador are not the corn tortillas used for tacos but rather stiff pancakes that might be made of corn, wheat or potato. This in particular is one disadvantage of knowing Spanish because I already have an idea in mind of what things are “supposed” to be called but I am often faced with items and foods that may have a completely different name here.
To conclude my time here so far has been very interesting and I have learned a lot but I still have a long way to go. As I have come to know more people and form friendships, I have begun to introduce to them an understanding of myself as part of two cultures, two nations and that my case is not unique but rather a reality for a large segment of people in the United States.