My Family’s Story

Maya Wilcox - Ecuador


August 26, 2017

Hello everyone! Welcome to my first blog of the year! Thanks so much for subscribing, I hope you enjoy reading my posts and learning about Ecuador. 

My blog will be centered around the stories of others, I plan to interview people I meet in Ecuador to learn about their lives and experiences and share them with you all. 
However, the first story I will tell is the story of my own family. 
My grandmother, Marina Altamirano neé Cabezas was born and grew up in the small Andean town of Guamote. Guamote lies in a little valley, surrounded by mountains and next to a small river. Nature was the townspeople's entertainment. My grandparents remember swimming in the river and stealing fruit off the trees of the nearby haciendas for fun. 
 Guamote was also one of the main stops of the train line that supplied goods from the Andes mountains to the rest of Ecuador. When the train arrived, street vendors flocked to its doors and goods were traded and loaded onto the train. Huge economic activity came from each train visit. My grandmother recalls milking the cows each morning the train arrived, and carrying metal tanks full of fresh, foaming milk directly to the station. For the first twenty years of her life, she sold mild pastries at the train station, profiting off the trading that came from the train stop. 

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Marina Altamirano neé Cabezas   
My grandfather was also born in Guamote. However, at the tender age of 14 he left to work at the sugar plantations on the coast. He returned to Guamote during the off-season, where he met my grandmother. They had what you could call a "seasonal relationship." However, at age 18, my grandmother became pregnant with my aunt and decided to move to the capital city, Quito, where she could make more money to support her daughter. 
A couple years later, my grandfather, Manuel Altamirano, followed my grandmother to Quito, got married, and moved the family to the coastal town of San Carlos. San Carlos was a very different town from Guamote. Guamote had an agrarian economy, and shipped produce all over the country. San Carlos was a sugar farm company town which shipped sugar directly to America. My grandparents lived in the Compania Valdez company housing and my grandfather worked in the fields for 5 years. They also had two more children, my second aunt and uncle. 
However, my grandfather had gotten involved in demanding for better working conditions; and one day, my grandmother remembers a company man knocking on her door and informing her she had to be gone by the end of the day. When my grandfather returned from work, he called his sister in the coastal city of Guayaquil and the family moved in with her for a few days. Soon, my grandfather found out his half brother had an empty apartment in Milagro, a town about 40 minutes away from Guayaquil, and moved the family there. 
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Manuel Altamirano
The town of Milagro was near a sugar plantation where my grandfather could find work, and was also a train stop for the shipping of goods around Ecuador. After my grandfather left for work, my grandmother quickly realized that his income would not support their family of five, and decided to open a kiosk near the train station. She had grown up in a town with a similar train station, and noticed that there were no stores and catered to the train passengers stopping Milagro. She bought the first kiosk in town, and was the first to sell to the train passengers. Her goods flew off the shelf, and with the second income, the family became middle class. They were able to buy a new house, hire a maid, and buy a fridge. They were even some of the first in town to own a television set. 
Then, my mother, Tania, was born. She remembers torrential rains in the town of Milagro. The nice part of town was made of cement, but the lower classes had dirt roads and lived in houses of bamboo. When the rains came, they would use little boats to get around because they could not walk along the roads. In her middle class upbringing, my mother remembers cleanliness being of the utmost importance. Laundry was done by hand, but it was washed in a big metal tub over hot coals, and the water would boil the clothing so it came out spotless. Her school uniform was ironed and her shoes were shined every morning, and the teachers at school would check every piece of clothing for cleanliness, even the underwear! Students whose clothes were dirty got a smack on the wrist. 
My mother's clothes were also custom made, instead of clothes shopping, the family went fabric shopping. A seamstress would come to the house, take measurements and make clothes for the whole family. This was cheaper than buying pre-made clothes. For entertainment, my mother had a little kerosene stove that her parents bought her, and she and her friends would steal ingredients from their mothers to make food like rice and potatoes. However, in the evening, her and her siblings would crowd around Don Chile and plead him for stories. Don Chile was employed as a errand man for her family's shop. My mother remembers that before they had a fridge, he would go to the market every morning and buy milk for her breakfast. She says Don Chile was the best storyteller she knows and he would tell stories that would span several days. 
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Tania Wilcox neé Altamirano with her mother, Marina. 
My mother left Ecuador at age 12 and started a new life in Connecticut, but her time in Ecuador is a big part of her identity and she loves sharing stories with me and my brother. When I was younger, we returned every year to visit my grandparents, who lived in Guayaquil until they died. I love Ecuador and I am very excited to return for an entire year and meet people, improve my spanish and learn more about the culture my grandparents grew up in. Thank you to all of you for joining me on my journey! 
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My brother Alejandro, my grandmother Marina, my grandfather Manuel and myself. 

Maya Wilcox