12 February 2016

Bennett Donine - Ecuador


May 25, 2016

My entire life I have been taught to accept certain truths as fact and certain knowledge as objective, but during my time abroad in Ecuador I have been able to see that some of these truths are not accurate. It is not as straightforward as I had once believed. We are all complex individuals never operating the same way, constructed through different categories and anatomies. All of us are composed of multiple social identities, not just one. All societies take on complex interpretations of identity, which take shape in the form of race, class, gender differences, age and sexual orientation each of these call into attention how power dynamics, value systems, and ideologies play out in social and political systems.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty states that, "We all choose partial, interested stories/histories perhaps not as deliberately as I am making it sound here. But consciously, or unconsciously, these choices about our past(s) often determine the logic of our present." She chose to claim and continues to claim "a history of anti-colonialist, feminist struggle in India" rather than a “Hindu chauvinist (bourgeois) of upward mobility." She concludes that the "The stories I recall, the ones that I retell and claim as my own, determine the choices and decisions I make in the present and the future" (Mohanty, 212). She provides a linear approach to identity’s significant role in our realities. On a slightly more micro/individual level for myself, how I define my individuality is shaped by my family and our dynamics with one another. My parents have encouraged myself and my three sisters to carve our own paths and establish ourselves. Our parents have raised us to be successful in doing this. In terms of the boxes I check on governmental forms I am a U.S. Caucasian female, among other characterizations represented by my nation and extended family (i.e. being of Jewish descent, my socioeconomic background, and parent’s professional experience). However, like Mohanty, I do not choose to claim certain histories of my family as my own or of my nation, the United States of America.

During my time in Ecuador, I am continuing to learn about my identity and which ‘partial history’ of my nation I identify with, as well as the identities of those around me. Reconciling these two things is something very import in determining the "logic of our present" that Mohanty refers to. The new and different connections I am making in my day-to-day life in Ecuador, are opening my eyes to the varying challenges and opportunities people face in regard to these differences in identities across continents. Chandra Mohanty illustrates in her essay On Being South Asian in North America, the tension between how we see ourselves and how we are perceived by others. The main lesson of Mohanty’s piece is that "Home, community and identity all fall somewhere between the histories and experiences we inherit and the political choices we make through alliance, solidarities and friendships" (Mohanty, 215). I can feel this in my own life and the different experiences I carry with me.

After reflecting on Mohanty’s Being North American in South America, I thought about my own positionality as a gringita with a heightened sense of cultural sensitivity. Unlike most members the expat community in Cotacachi, Ecuador, I recognize the history of Ecuador and the remnants which I have ‘inherited’ through the horrors committed by Western powers throughout the colonialist era and what still remains in neocolonialist forms. This system has existed throughout time and has caused countless lives to be lost and lived in servitude. Through my political views and the people I will choose to vote for, I can start to do something about this. Living in Ecuador, building friendships, families and perspective of global realities I am in the midst of establishing a broadened (global) identity that is one with the world.

Specific to my experience here in Ecuador, the Indigenous culture and its preservation is an example of an identity that has been transformed. This is an example through which my understanding of the identities of those around me has been revised. In "Old and New Identities," Stuart Hall offers an account of how an identity that once had negative connotations can be co-opted and transformed by the population it was applied to and in that process lead to a change of consciousness.

During the Global Citizen Training Seminar II, we received a discussion handout, in which four Ecuadorians, both indigenous and mestizo, offer their personal opinions in response to the question, "What is your personal definition of indigenous people in Ecuador?" An indigenous male working at oficina de educacion bilingue in Ibarra, Ecuador stated, "We are natives in this land. ‘Indigenous people’ is not the proper name of our group and this way of calling our group is not a respectable way because the conquistador that came from the western world named us indigenous people or Indian. However, we also accepted this term and used it for referring to our own groups." This man provides insight into the silencing that can accompany that act of coming into identification. This ultimately foregrounds the political battle against a ‘global white supremacy’, by continuing to use this label despite it’s history and connotation.

The other definitions also acknowledge the fact they still use the label "Indian", a mistake made by Columbus, to establish a sense of unity, through which all voices are heard. Some argued against the use of a collective label as "indigenous people" claiming nationality of region is more important. Bringing into question nationality and race, one man states, "We have indigenous people from the Andean mountain regions, Amazon areas and coastal regions and they each have a different ‘nacionalidad’ (nationality)". Claiming the collective alternative dissolves the true authentic reality of defining oneself as having a distinct identity, and their racial ideologies. However, with this self-recognition and claiming its essentialism comes both negative and positive consequences (E.g silencing versus unity).

Some might stray away from the distinctions of nationalities and stick with the collective label of indigenous peoples as a whole in order to look at themselves as people as opposed to boundaries. They are recognizing their current realities and the challenges they continue to face, and hone in on education to recover and maintain their ethnic pride. The original way through which this group of people were named, by western imperialists, was constructed in the interest of domination as well as potential power a concept I am now able to recognize and prioritize.

An indigenous male and leader of an agricultural organization in Riobamba, Ecuador states, "Who wears a poncho and hat does not matter because if we focus on who is indigenous or not, we lose a wonderful opportunity to meet new ideas….Race and ethnicity are not important… Sharing the same goal and philosophy is more important… cooperation… sharing each others sense of value and culture." His statement reveals what I now understand differently. Regardless of national, ethnic, or regional identity, or possibly relative to all identities in general, sharing and celebrating difference rather than constructing them as "other" is the mode through which collaboration across identity borders is possible.

Hall, Stuart. "Old and New Identities." Beyond Borders: Thinking Critically about Global Issues. Ed. Paula Rothenberg. New York: Worth Publishers, 2006. 220-224.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. "On being South Asian in North America." Beyond Borders: Thinking Critically about Global Issues. Ed. Paula Rothenberg. New York: Worth Publishers, 2006. 209-216.

Bennett Donine