Marissa Abara just finished her January Term with HECUA’s program Social and Political Transformation in Ecuador. She is a student at the University of St. Thomas majoring in Communication & Journalism, minoring in American Culture & Difference, and Graphic Design. Read on for her final reflection about being in Ecuador.
As I reflect upon what I have learned and experienced throughout my time in Ecuador, the one concept that ties in every aspect of what we have discussed is decoloniality. This idea of deconstructing the structures and ideas put in place by colonizers is present in the motivation for changing the [Ecuadorian] Constitution [of 2008], preserving the environment, and in the many different social movements. This was the first time I had heard of this term. It is packed with meaning and history.
To begin, there was coloniality, the creation and distinctions between race, gender, sexuality, beliefs and knowledge. For that to work in the favor of the colonist, there had to be labeling of what was true and false, right and wrong. As I understand it, the colonists convinced themselves that they were the correct ones, and forcibly colonized others because the colonizers believed that their lifestyles were incorrect. This stark duality has created turmoil for generations of people of color who want to embrace their cultures and beliefs and want reestablish those things in their lives. In turn, this has led to a multitude of social movements such as the women’s, indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorians, LGBTQ+, and youth movements.
Spending time with Manuela Omari Ima (Waorani community leader) and Gabriela Montalvo were the most impactful moments for me within the classroom. Ima talked in detail about the process and organization needed to fight against big oil within the Waorani territories. I found it moving how the women were the ones leading this fight and bringing the communities together so that all their voices will be heard. From Montalvo’s lecture, she helped me realize how many outside factors impact Ecuadorians, especially women. It was hard to hear, but necessary in order to understand the economic and political scope.
I also enjoyed my time visiting the El Churo organization, a media cultural collective comprised of youth and young adults. I always love hearing about what people my age are doing to make change and how they go about it. Also, as a Communication and Journalism major, I liked learning about how they put together their platform, and showcase their outlets (such as podcasts, radio broadcasting).
Another topic, interculturality, was a new one to me. I find it interesting how Ecuador has taken measures to have more cross-cultural dialogue and include more people with governmental decisions. For example, the new Constitution (2008) listed over 100 human rights and gave environmental laws for the first time. Though people are still waiting on these deliverables, I suspect that there will still be pressure from a number of social organizations. The conflict of big oil has exacerbated political and economic security for Ecuador. There is still so much about interculturality and Ecuador’s relationship with big oil that I want to know more about.
My experience in this program has changed the way I understand historical and present issues faced by South American countries. I had been taught previously that things are the way they are because of their own government’s doing and mismanagement. Now, I know that much of the conflict comes from outside influences, such as the United States. This program also introduced me to the idea of a progressive government, and it has changed the way I think about democracy and representation. Learning about the construction of reality, especially in connection to race, was another eye-opening experience. I learned that coloniality and modernity are two sides of the same coin and that both are structured in controlling power, knowledge and being. In order to decolonize, we need to target these structures.
I have learned the most from my time spend outside of the classroom with my host family, field trips and talking with other young people. Among my host family, we had long discussions on various topics such as the changes in safety around Quito over the last few years, immigration, tourism, health care system, taxation, love and marriage, and the countries imports versus exports. I enjoyed every moment and insight from my host family. I will miss Ecuador so much and continue to reflect upon my time spent there, for it was a lot to take in at once.