My friend Ana, whom I met while studying at Fordham invited me to summer with her in Ecuador.
It was an offer of a lifetime and I am happy I took advantage of the opportunity.
Our friendship was built on help and faith. We met each other at a time when we both were missing a huge piece in different areas of our lives. She was settling in New York after leaving her motherland, Ecuador, and I was getting used to the idea of living without my Mom.
We met on Campus in the language lab where I worked. She would ask me to correct her papers and most times, the topic of her papers would lead to long discussions about God and/ or family. The conversations I had with Ana were unlike most of the conversations I had with my young college friends. She always made me think of life as something serious. She never really used her age or fact that she was more experienced in life to judge or teach me. Nonetheless, teaching is what she was doing. She would listen to my stories and always respond in a way to make me think about my decisions.
When we graduated, we kept in touch and our friendship grew. When her mom became a US citizen, she invited me the ceremony and every summer she would invite me to her home in Ecuador. However, every summer I would tell her I was working. Nonetheless, this past spring I found a job offer in Ecuador!
While I turned down the job offer, I still summered in Ecuador. I met her rather large family, learned how to make Ecuadorian dishes, went to the nearby Spanish Pentecostal church, met and made a lot of friends, met Ana’s past suitors and even got to ride a donkey (yep, that was exciting…)!
Without saying much, Ana showed me what it meant to work hard to make it in a world that rejects you because you are female or not apart of the norm. To watch the interactions between Ana and those with whom she was associated herself with was something special and sometimes stressful. She shared with me that she was going to stay in Ecuador as oppose to returning to New York. As soon as she got back to her home country she began the job hunting process. I witnessed what it meant to live in a land where opportunity was very small among so many bright and intelligent people.
Traveling makes you pay attention to your full self identity most times without even knowing! While this was not my first time being in an environment in which I was the only Black or American person, this was the first time I spent so much time away from home. I saw very few black people and no Black Americans. I met a couple of Americans who were from the west. However, all of them were White or Latino. Because I am aware of my race and nationality, it mattered to me when I saw someone who shared my skin tone or were American.
Once when I was walking down the street with Ana, coming towards me were two black women. They were speaking Spanish and I could tell they were Ecuadorian. When we all made eye contact, we smiled and greeted each other as if we were truly sisters! Then another time, I traveled to Gualaceo to attend their version of a Youth Conference and while there, I ran into a black family while at the park. Even though we could not really communicate as we wanted to, (because of the language barrier), we were excited to see one another (I will share photos later)! I continued to have this type of emotional reaction when I ran into my people….I realized that not even Ana understood what was happening.
The emotional reaction I had when I saw the Black Ecuadorians differed from when I ran into White Americans. While I was happy to see someone who shared my native tongue, I was annoyed when Ana or someone around me would point out that they were American because what usually followed was, go talk to them! And I never wanted to speak to them. NEVER. Only once when I was in Cuenca did I have a positive emotional reaction after running into a White American man and this was because we were attracted to each other.
While away, I got a chance to experience how it was to live day to day in Ecuador and realize that women have come a long way in America. I am not sure if what I saw happens all across Ecuador but from what I saw, women marry very young and run the house in terms of cooking and cleaning. I also notice that their is no shame in breastfeeding (which I thought was phenomenal)! Women did not run ‘for cover’ if their little ones were hungry, they just fed them in public.
My last day there, I wrote Ana a note thanking her for allowing me into her world to learn more about myself.
My first day in Ecuador, I realized that the Virgin Mary was everywhere…and begin to play a game with myself. Where will I see her next?
Two weekends ago the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center celebrated 20 years of being in the Crotona section of the Bronx. If Mary Mitchell herself was alive, she would be 100 year old. The community center that was made in her remembrance is still on the corner with their doors open wide to the youth and families.
Mary Mitchell lived in the neighborhood during a time when the Bronx was burning. Most people were moving out and most of what was left was destroyed by landlords. She and her friends opened her home to those in the community, especially the youth. During the summer, she gave them tasks to do and kept them busy. She prepared meals and blocked off the streets for parties and activities. When she passed away, those in the community banded together to remember her by opening a center in her honor.