Rise ↑ (Part II: Chota, Ecuador)

After our visit in Otavalo, which included me purchasing a beauuuuutiful (and super warm) sweater from the market, we hopped back on the bus and continued further North along I-35. The views of mountains were endless, and the air began to get dryer and hotter and immediately I noticed the green pastures turned to a desert landscape as we headed into a valley. We arrived in Valle de Chota at nightfall, and was greeted by 10-12 Afroecuatorianas who were full of joy and hospitality as they welcomed all 47 of us into their homes. I was blessed to stay at Ms. Doña Evita’s Hospederia. We ended the night by learning the Yoruba-inspired dance & music genre called Bomba Ecuatoriana, and celebrated our journey under the stars.

The next day, we woke up and headed directly to the Cultural center in El Juncal, the largest community in the Valle de Chota to learn about the history of Afroecuatorianos and their connection to the greater African Diaspora. And this is where I fell in love with Ecuador.

So, it is no mystery to people why I chose to join the Peace Corps in Latin America. With a mother who is a Afro-Panamanian American, I have wrestled with what being black in Latin America has meant. I spent the overwhelming majority of my upbringing influenced by Caribbean-American and African-American culture, and always felt like there was more to my story of blackness. Well, I’m only 4 weeks in and just being able to recognize the shared history that connects all of my Pan-African identities was mind-blowing.

Historical Context:

Afroecuatorianos in Valle de Chota were also enslaved Africans, who although experienced freedom from their Jesuit Priest masters in 1851, were marginalized for almost an entire century by these same plantation owners. Olga Palacios, President of La Asociacion Aroma Caliente said in her talk about the history of Choteños, “while [black Americans] were fighting for their rights, we were still fighting for our freedom.”

Sounds familiar my fellow Estadounidenses? Debería.

Well, I found myself thinking about the Israelites who were enslaved for a very long time by their Egyptian captors until God made a way for them to become a free people. Their journey was very difficult, which included a 40-year layover in the wilderness until they were able to enter into the Promised Land. God had a purpose for those people, and I truly believe he has a purpose for mine.

I am realizing more and more that my swiss cheese history is a unique story that speaks to the strength of my people, and it is BEAUTIFUL. Just like how the natives in Otavalo share a history of rituals, faith & healing, my puzzle piece connects with the African Diaspora, spread around the world like stars in the sky. Our people have held onto our rituals through dance, music and family ties even in the midst of great anguish and pain.

Through each connection I make to those who share my identity in different countries all around the world, I receive a glimpse of what the future holds, even under the shadow of a not-so-distant past. It’s VERY VERY BLACK, and it’s VERY VERY ME.

The amount of joy I feel about being a black woman in this world is so fulfilling. So, perhaps this is what Mother Maya meant when she declared “Still I Rise.”

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