Racial Issues in Loja
I’ve recently heard from a couple different African American readers of my book, one of whom asked me about racial issues in Ecuador. I’d like to share our correspondence so that others who have similar questions will have an answer. I hope it helps someone!
My reader wrote…
“While you mentioned a great many things about Loja, you did not address the people’s attitude toward African Americans. I have always been able to get along with most people, but I’ve read (on other sites, books and from expats) that Ecuadorian people don’t care for us and do not trust us…if this is true I suppose I have my work cut out for me….when you have a moment, could you please address this concern?”
I honestly wasn’t too sure, so I wrote to a few of my contacts in Ecuador and asked about their observations. Two of the replies are from expats, and one is from a local. I received a mixed bag of answers, and here they are:
First reply (from an expat):
“I don’t think the discrimination here is half as bad as it is in the US. One of my local friends posts cute pictures of black children all the time on Facebook. In Loja there are a fair number of blacks and I have never seen anyone notice. Our friends have a black friend who is a professional of some sort. He is married to a Lojana. He is from the US East coast. So I say no problem. Ecuadorians are in general people of color. Either Spanish, native or mixed.”
Second reply (from a local):
“There are racists in Ecuador and most of the people of color live on the coast where it’s very hot, as you know… But there is a couple in love and I think in Loja it’s not too bad! But in the whole country I assume it’s kind of the same (the thing is that on the coast it can be a little dangerous). I really think that Loja will be a good place. I used to have some college classmates that were from the coast and they seem like it was not bad. I mean there will be racist people everywhere and I know it’s pretty sad… usually big cities are better because there is more diversity…I hope that can help a little.”
Third reply (from an expat):
“The black Ecuadorians are centered around Esmeraldas (northern coast) due to a slave ship crashing there around the year 1553. David Sazaki has also written of black Ecuadorian communities in the mountains in the north of the country (small city somewhere up that way). Unfortunately, Ecuadorians in general are very racist. They worship white skin and light coloring (hair, eyes, etc.) and you’ll notice most of the advertising displays scantily clad European women who look very different from most Ecuadorian women (partly because they are so tall and thin—even the white Ecuadorian women have a different body type than the models used to sell things).
There are some black retirees who are doing fine in Cuenca, but like almost all the expats in Cuenca, they don’t spend their time with Ecuadorians. I do see black people in Loja every now and then, I think most come from the coast to live in Loja to work here. There is also a retired black North American couple living in Loja right now as missionaries. I had lunch with the wife and asked her what it was like being black here. She said it is the same as in the US, everyone assumes you are dishonest and are going to steal things, etc. When you walk into a store the staff follow you around suspiciously. She said it was this way her whole life in the States, so it isn’t any different here. But she also said that as soon as she opens her mouth they figure out she is not from the coast of Ecuador and some relax more after that because they assume if she is a gringa, she has money to spend.
Gringos don’t make friends with Ecuadorians anyway (some of the younger ones do but it rarely happens with the older retirees), and I imagine for a black person it would be even harder. In Vilcabamba it would be fine with the expats there; I suspect skin color would not matter to most of them. I recommend joining the giant Ecuador Expats Facebook page, and ask there about Ecuadorian communities in the mountains that have black people. David Sasaki could tell you where there are some, so he will likely answer if he sees your post.
Also, I want to add that not ALL Ecuadorians are racist, of course!! I know an Ecuadorian who went to grad school in Colombia and had a black housemate who came to be a close friend. After that he (the Ecuadorian) had a romantic relationship with a black woman. And other Ecuadorians have had life experiences that have taught them how stupid racism really is, so there are some who do not close their hearts based on skin color.”
Based on my own experience in Loja I think that regardless of the color of your skin, if you work to learn the language and the culture you will make some friends among the locals, though it sounds like it might take more effort. My husband and I are very obviously Caucasian, so I can only speak from that personal experience. I am curious to hear experiences from people of other races as they move or travel to Ecuador. I know of another couple who read my book and are Asian, so I am curious to hear about their experience when they return from their upcoming trip, too. If you have any thoughts to add, I (and likely many others) would love it if you could share in the comments below!
I so wish that we could all move around the planet without having to worry about how people will label each other based on looks. I recently saw a video about that which made me almost cry:
My husband and I are nomads, having lived in over a dozen U.S. states, plus Mexico, Antarctica, and Ecuador. I write. I recently released the 2nd edition of my 2nd book, "Live Like a Local in Loja," and I'm looking for a publisher for my third book, "Seven Years Running"--the true story of my fugitive childhood.