Identity in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Identity in Ecuador is a complex concept. Although Ecuador is relatively homogenous regarding religious views and values, there are several different layers of Ecuadorian identity held by its diverse population. In the past, Ecuador’s population has grasped at a common identity, however with a movement towards inclusivity of its Indigenous population and other smaller groups, this can no longer be held as legitimate. There has been an overall shift away from embedded colonial ties, which embraces cultures and practices that were held before Ecuador’s encounters with colonialism. Identity in general is a concept which is often difficult to grasp or define, as it can mean different things to everyone. In Ecuador, there are several understandings of what constitutes an Ecuadorian national identity.
National identity as a concept is blurry and open to interpretation and personal perception. Historically speaking in a global context, it has been both a point of tension and a tool for togetherness for many nations. It can reflect the common values and pride of the people within a nation’s borders, but there is a potential for it to be divisive for lack of a common collective understanding of what it means, in this case, to be Ecuadorian. As with any colonized nation, Ecuador has struggled to embrace a national identity due to its encounters with colonizers and further encounters with an increasingly globalized world.
Indigenous populations in Ecuador have long struggled with having their indigenous identity represented in an overall Ecuadorian context. In a national attempt to unify and homogenize Ecuadorian identity, many indigenous populations were left out of the equation. In recent years though, there has been a shift to include indigenous cultures and identities in an overall Ecuadorian national identity after many peaceful protests and movements from the indigenous peoples. With this shift, Ecuador has embraced more of a multi-layered national identity which seeks to encompass all those living within its borders.
Mestizos, or mestizaje is a term used across Latin America and it can be defined as “a mixed race” identity. In Ecuador, the mestizo identifying population are a mix of indigenous and European background. Approximately ~70% of Ecuadorians identify as mestizo; however, it is important not to discredit the other mixed identities in the nation such as Afro-Latinos and more. In 1895, Mestizos were declared the heart of Ecuadorian national identity moving forward. Although a majority of Ecuador today can be defined as mixed race, there still exists certain racial and ethnic hierarchies within the society at large, making a national identity difficult to grasp at.
Music, language, religion, culture and other factors keep Ecuadorians different, but also somewhat unified. There is not one single national identity for Ecuadorian’s, but there is a common acceptance of one another’s various identities.
Beck, Scott H; Mijeski, Kenneth J. “Indigena Self-Identity in Ecuador and the Rejection of Mestizaje” Latin American Research Review. 2000. 35:1. 119-137.
Garcia, Denia; Telles, Edward. “Mestizaje and Public Opinion in Latin America” 2013. 48:3. 130-152. Web.
Huarcaya, Sergio Miguel. “Imagining Ecuadorians: Historicizing National Identity in Twentieth-Century Otavalo, Ecuador”. Latin American Research Review. 2014. 49:3. 64-84.
Segreda, Rick. “A Brief History of the Mestizo in Ecuador” Culture Trip. 2017. Web. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/ecuador/articles/a-brief-history-of-the-mestizo-in-ecuador/
Political Structures in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador, officially the ‘Republic of Ecuador’ has a political system which can be most accurately defined as a representative democracy. There are local and federal level governments who are voted in democratically. Ecuadorian’s are legally allowed to vote at the age of 18 and are expected to vote until the age of 64. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920, making it one of the first amongst its regional counterparts to recognize women’s role in democratic politics. Ecuador’s head of state is called a President, and their current head of state is President Lenin Moreno Garces. The current Vice President of Ecuador is María Alejandra Muñoz.
Ecuador gained its independence in 1822 but has since had a long and rocky road to becoming a consistently democratic nation. Since 1979 with the implementation of the constitution, the country has seen democratic stability in terms of frequent and fair elections. The government is structured between municipal (referred to in Ecuador as ‘cantons’), provincial and federal levels of governance.
At the local level, are electoral districts called cantons. There are 221 of them in the country, and cantons are democratic electoral districts where a leader is locally elected by the people residing within that canton. The next level of government is provincial, however the person in charge of provincial government (governor) is not democratically elected by the people living in the provinces. This person, referred to as a governor, is rather appointed by the President at the federal level. Although they are not directly democratically elected by the people, they typically represent the President’s party values. The leaders of the cantons within each of the 24 provinces hold a significant amount of pull in decision making for local communities.
At the federal level, the President is elected democratically for a four-year term. On the federal ballot, when casting your vote, you are to select your choice for both the President and the Vice President. The Vice President’s role is more supplementary and supportive than active, and the Vice President would only actively step in to govern in extreme circumstances. Although there are elections every four years, the President may only serve one term and not run in the election following their term in office. The President and their executive reside and govern from Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. To become the President of Ecuador, there are certain requirements that must be fulfilled by the individual such as being at least 35 years in age, an Ecuadorian citizen, etc. For the President to be voted in, votes are cast anonymously by secret ballot. In order to gain Presidency and Vice Presidency, the respective candidates must gain the ‘absolute majority’ of the vote, which can be defined as anything more than half of the votes.
“Ecuador Government Structure” Country Studies. US Library of Congress. http://countrystudies.us/ecuador/58.htm
“Ecuador: Local Government” Britannica Places. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ecuador
“Ecuador: Government” Global Edge Country Profiles. https://globaledge.msu.edu/countries/ecuador/government
Religion in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador, although predominantly Roman Catholic, constitutionally embraces an open attitude towards diverse religious and spiritual practices. Ecuador is a secular state, meaning it separates religious and political life in its policies and practices. Although it is a secular state, approximately 85-95% of Ecuadorians identify as Roman Catholic. Historical events have shifted religious and spiritual practices amongst Ecuador’s diverse population over time, crafting the religiously homogenous but religiously tolerant nation we see today.
Most of the indigenous populations in Ecuador have adopted Catholicism and shifted away from their prior spiritual and religious practices since colonization from the Spanish. Although Ecuador is predominantly Roman Catholic, there is a small Jewish population, as well as other smaller followings of Christian faiths and other miscellaneous religions. The constitution in Ecuador is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, especially regarding religious freedoms. This constitution instills religious freedoms and tolerance upon the nation and discourages religious based discrimination in any form.
Roman Catholicism was brought to Ecuador with Spanish colonialism in 1534. This was when the first Catholic church was built, and now churches are one of the biggest attractions for tourists and locals with their elaborate architecture and history. Although it is commonly assumed that the first church was built in Quito, the capital, this is not the case. Before Quito was deemed the capital city, the capital was near the Chimborazo volcano, high in the mountains. The climate was deemed too difficult for a capital city shortly after the first Catholic church was already underway. It was with this realization that the Spanish shifted the capital to Quito where it remains today. The oldest known church is called the ‘The Balbanera Church’ or ‘Iglesía de Balbanera’, named after the virgin of Balbanera. This church was built with volcanic materials and, although done with colonial influence, shows off many local practices and habits such as regional food and cultural traditions in its architecture.
Churches in Ecuador provide great significance and insight into the country’s colonial encounters and present-day religious practices. These structures are an everyday reminder of how embedded Catholicism and religion is in Ecuador’s knitwork. Catholic churches in the country are a common tourist attraction, and they are often large and extravagant. The implementation of attractive churches came with the overall colonial shift towards Roman Catholicism and has now become a large part of Ecuador as a nation’s identity at large.
Secularism is represented in the education system as well as other facets of everyday life. For example, public schools must put Ecuador’s secularist constitution in practice and are not to mention religion in schools at all to ensure a separation of church and state. With that though, privately funded schools may still promote religious ideology through their curricula. Ecuador is a unique example of modern-day progression and secularism, encountering a long history of embedded religious homogeneity.
Drake, Angela. ‘The Story Behind the Oldest Church in Ecuador’. 2017. Web. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/ecuador/articles/the-story-behind-the-oldest-church-in-ecuador/
“Ecuador 2018 Religious Freedom Report” 2018. Web. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ECUADOR-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
“History and Culture of Ecuador”. Web. https://www.adventure-life.com/ecuador/articles/history-and-culture-of-ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador’s position in Latin America provides diverse opportunities for ethical tourism. Within its borders it holds diverse landscapes, allowing for accommodation of a vast field of interests. With tourism generally, it is crucial to acknowledge the complexities of the nation you are planning to visit and how to enjoy your holiday with these in mind. Tourism accounts for a good chunk of Ecuador’s annual revenues and is becoming increasingly important to the nation’s economic stability in recent years. It is important to do your research before travelling to Ecuador or any new destination, to ensure that your trip will be ethical and beneficial to the nation you are visiting. Travelling of course inherently uses harmful emissions through air travel and other means of transportation, but there are certainly ways to guarantee that your time away from home will be as ethical and environmentally efficient as possible. This guide does not necessarily only apply to Ecuador but will use Ecuador specific examples given its unique diversity and geographical location.
The most crucial responsibility of any tourist is to put an effort into understanding the place you are visiting, before, during and after your trip. Not only is it necessary to understand basics such as geography and currency, it is also of equal importance to learn about the languages, cultures and customs you may encounter on your travels. For example, Two Rivers Reserve is located on the indigenous lands of the Kichwa people. Where you may have done your research and are conscious of traditions and values in Quito for example, in this region and other regions, these may differ. Moreover, preserving and reclaiming traditions are of utmost importance to this community and other indigenous communities around the world. Always make a valiant effort to immerse yourself in your surroundings without being offensive or harmful to them.
When travelling to Ecuador and its regional counterparts, most people assume that the language used is Spanish. Ecuador holds within it a diverse population and has at least eleven languages spoken throughout the country- so be weary of this when assuming Spanish will be the spoken language of the region you are visiting. As well as language, Ecuador offers a diverse range of activities and landscapes that suit every kind of tourist. Whether you are interested in backpacking, eco or adventure tourism, luxury beach vacations or volunteer work, Ecuador has something for you. Regardless of your interests, there are ways to guarantee that your trip will help and not hinder the economy and the nation at large.
Eco-Tourism, a trend that began in the Galapagos has gained ground in Ecuador in recent past. Eco-tourism aims to immerse tourists in natural environments without damaging the local life at said destination. Furthermore, it focuses on benefitting the people and the land in the region while maintaining significant tourism into the area. In this particular region of the world, there has since been an increase in “green” tourism that preaches eco-tourism’s values, however in practice does not carry out the same principles and values which guarantee a beneficial experience for the host and the tourist. Deforestation is a major issue in Ecuador, and organizations such as Two Rivers Reserve serve the purpose of allowing tourists to engage with and re-establish local life without doing any of the damage that larger corporate “green” tourism companies would do. Always do your research into the values and principles of organizations when choosing an organization to volunteer with.
If your travelling style leans more towards luxury travel, look into the tour companies and hotels you book with to guarantee that these offer authentic local experiences that benefit the local economy and environment, rather than manicured experiences which harm both the locals and tourists’ experience. If you have more of a taste for adventure and wish you do your trip on a smaller budget, there are certainly ways to do this which would benefit local life. You can book yourself into locally owned eco hostels and meet other likeminded travelers or eat and shop at locally owned restaurants and eateries. Ensure that you are avoiding large chain fast food where possible. This can also save your budget and allows you to try new foods which better help you connect with your environment and enhance your experience and understanding. There is certainly something for everyone in Ecuador, and there are always ways to be a more responsible tourist, regardless of your travelling style.
Women's Movements in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador is a progressive and politically engaged country, with many social justice movements taking place all over the nation every year. Compared to its Latin American counterparts, Ecuador has a significantly higher rate of political action from women, and a higher rate of social movements run for and by women or with women involvement. The 2008 Constitution includes many amendments to the gender gap (among other issues) that exists in the nation at both the societal and political level. Several civil groups have organized to fight for women’s rights and freedoms in the country over time. Many of the major protests and social movements in Ecuador, even if not directly for women’s rights, hold substantial weight for the status of women in Ecuador today. Indigenous people, particularly indigenous women have played a significant role in social movements over the years.
Although not to discredit smaller movements, there will be a focus on larger key women’s movements which have brought Ecuador to the place it sits at currently in terms of gender equality and recognition. Women’s movements in Ecuador stem from all walks of life, representing the immense diversity within the nation. The overall women’s movement in Ecuador is comprised of several small and large women’s groups from all different facets of society throughout history. Each group, regardless of size, has made a significant difference for the future of Ecuador. It is important to note though, that although groups have mobilized from every region and every socioeconomic background, not all voices are being heard equally as some face more inherent challenges than others.
Ecuador was the first country in the region to allow for women to vote in 1929, putting it ahead of its regional counterparts in terms of progressive policies surrounding gender equality. Following this, several women’s groups congregated and fight for issues ranging from political representation to harsh gender roles, abortion access, the oil industry and more. The Glorious May Revolution was a significant turning point in feminist history in Ecuador. This was when the people of Ecuador successfully overthrew their government in a time when fascism was the global norm. Ecuador’s resilience was due in large part to the many feminist activists who refused to back down. A notable feminist from this movement and in Ecuador’s feminist movement in general is ‘Dolores Cacuango’ or ‘Mama Doloreyuk’. Cacuango was a major part of the 1944 May Revolution and created the Indigenous Federation of Ecuador.
There have been several protests led by indigenous women throughout Ecuador’s history. These movements hold particular importance as we attempt to navigate a world where these voices often get left behind. Most recently, on October 12th 2019 during a nationwide lockdown, several peaceful anti-state violence protests erupted, mainly led and organized by indigenous women. This women’s movement was a part of a larger protest against harsh austerity measures in the nation. This movement continues today and is incredibly powerful given that it was largely led by afro-indigenous Ecuadorian women whose voices are often unheard. Social movements led by women persist in Ecuador and have made great strides toward a more egalitarian society through peaceful means. The women’s movement in Ecuador attempts to oppose and calls out years of harmful residual practices leftover from colonialism and beyond.
Amor, Bani. “What Ecuador’s Feminist History Can Teach Us All” 2017. Teen Vogue. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-ecuadors-feminist-history-can-teach-us-all
“Ecuador Unrest: Amazonian Women denounce ‘state violence’” Al Jazeera. 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2019/10/12/ecuador-unrest-amazonian-women-denounce-state-violence/
“Helping Advance Women’s Political Rights in Ecuador” 2020. UNDPPA. http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/03/helping-advance-womens-political-rights-ecuador/
Paley, Dawn Marie. “Women Rise Against Violence in Ecuador” 2020. Toward Freedom. https://towardfreedom.org/story/women-rise-against-violence-in-ecuador/
Poor, Hannah. “The Historical and Contemporary Role of Women in Ecuadorian Society”. Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Brown University. https://library.brown.edu/create/modernlatinamerica/chapters/chapter-15-culture-and-society/essays-on-culture-and-society/the-historical-and-contemporary-role-of-women-in-ecuadorian-society/
“The Life of Dolores Cacuango and her Struggle for Justice” 25 October 2018. Telsur. https://www.telesurenglish.net/analysis/The-Life-of-Dolores-Cacuango-And-Her-Struggle-For-Justice--20181025-0029.html
This page is happy to have many authors! From some of the Two Rivers' staff to our lovely volunteer interns. WE hope we can see Ecuador in as many perspectives as there are trees in the Amazon.