Throughout my childhood, the only things I can recall remembering about Latin American culture are these:
Latin America is the same thing as Mexico
Latinos are all lazy
Latinos are often criminals
Latinos in the US are all illegal immigrants
My younger self unsuspectingly accepted these generalizations as true due to the miniscule exposure I had had to latino cultures. My high school had a population that was roughly 80% White, 15% Asian, and 5% other. Thus, I knew very well that White people appreciated such things as Lululemon yoga pants, paying $30 for an hour class at Soulcycle just to post an “aesthetic” picture on their Snapchat story, and tailgate parties before football games.
I was very well acquainted with White culture. So much so that it seemed like no other culture was worth knowing about. White supremacy snaked its way into my subconscious, despite my more liberal political beliefs, allowing me to believe the chauvinistic ideals that the United States was the only country worth caring about. Undoubtedly, the US has an incredibly large global influence, from economics to social media trends, but that does not mean that the rest of the 7.2 billion people in the world deserve to be discredited.
Taking a chance on Ecuador allowed me to step outside the single story I had constructed in my mind about the world around me. Rather than only envisioning South America as an ecologist’s dream, where llamas and indigenous communities cohabit, I have become engrossed in the robust culture that pulses through the veins of the lively people of Ecuador. Frankly, after surrounding myself with the mentality of Cuencanos, I see many things that the United States could learn from this tiny country.
Ecuadorians are some of the most accepting people I have ever met. Despite hearing rumors that they had a vendetta against Chinese people for the economic influences they have had on Ecuador, none of the Ecuadorians I have met have ever tried to discriminate me for my ethnicity. I only get asked questions coming from a place of sincere curiosity rather than demeaning prejudice. When I told my host family about Chinese New Year traditions, they were filled with bewilderment as they were learning about a culture so different from their own. The sparkle in their eyes and excitement in their voices as I informed them of their zodiac animals became such a strong bonding moment rather than another aspect of difference to separate us. They let me explain my own customs rather than assuming things about me based on empty stereotypes. Whatever stories they had heard about my heritage could now be rewritten by my real anecdotes and experiences. This just made their inquisitiveness exponentiate. More and more questions came my way, exposing them to slivers of how life back home was for me, and tearing away the possibility of hostility.
That same simple mind set of “don’t judge a book by its cover” could go a long way in the US. Then maybe white supremacists wouldn’t exist. Then maybe Black people wouldn’t have been the targets of hate crimes for the last 200 years. Then maybe families wouldn’t be torn apart from a certain President deporting immigrants. Then maybe the victims of school shootings wouldn’t be hushed into submission just for being under 18. Just maybe the world could be a safer and more enjoyable place to live in.