Today, as I calmly and quietly held a conversation with a university acquaintance of mine on the Ecovia bus home, an old poncho-clad woman violently kicked me in the shins, yelled some incomprehensible Spanish babble at me, then kicked me again before I sidestepped away to safety. I exchanged a few puzzled looks with my fellow passengers, all of whom seemed equally as mystified by the incident as I did, as the woman unceremoniously took a seat.
What could I have possibly done to warrant such a vicious attack?
Though I hadn’t been talking loudly, I had been speaking English – could I have suddenly become an incarnation of American, imperial aggression in her eyes, thereby making her attack a way for her to stick it to the man?
Was she offended by the fact that I was wearing a cotton shirt embroidered by an Otavalan artisan when I, myself, was clearly not indigenous?
Had I pulled her pigtails or stolen her boyfriend in a previous life?
As I rubbed my right shin with my left shoe, I stole a glance back at my new nemesis and caught her quietly mumbling to herself, adjusting her woolen, red poncho around her slim body. Eager to dispel whatever Andean voodoo incantation she could have possibly been inflicting on me, I booked it out of there at my stop, which luckily arrived soon after that.
This Friday will mark the completion of my first full month in Ecuador. And along with excitement and delight, a few bouts of home and love sickness have pushed and shoved their way to the forefront of my emotional mindset these past few days.
The novelty of receiving a large amount of attention from strangers due to my foreign looks has worn off, and incidents such as having the Movistar phone attendant who added minutes to my cell phone send me romantic song lyrics via text after having hijacked my number are beginning to lose their charm and just feel a bit strange.
Most of all, I am mystified by the love-hate relationship with he United States. People such as Movistar-gentleman love you because you are American, while others such as Ecovia-crazy-lady potentially despise you for it.
Needless to say, the U.S. is not South America’s most popular friend. After decades of interventionist and paternalistic foreign policy, it’s understandable that resentment would permeate U.S.-Latin relations.
A few days ago, I found myself in a debate on the very term “American.” In Spanish, there exists a specific word to designate a citizen of the United States: estadounidense. The direct equivalent of “American,” americano, refers to any individual from either North or South America, not just the U.S. Why should “American” refer to the U.S. only? Now that I’m here, on the American continent but not in “America” proper, the use of the noun to describe my citizenship seems rather ethnocentric and narrow-minded.
I understand that its usage is not malicious, but rather the result of a lingual, historical development. But if language creates reality – something I honestly believe – shouldn’t the verbal designation of U.S. citizenship change to reflect the fact that we’re not alone on the continent?
I also realize this won’t happen. But perhaps one of the first steps toward improving U.S.-Latin relations ought to be increasing a conscientiousness of our shared American-ness.
Ecuador, like the vast majority of South American countries, is a multi-cultural, pluralistic nation, whose people come from all corners of the world. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Although North and South America contain different ethnic groups, their statuses as cultural “melting pots” liken them in significant ways.
Certainly, we’re different. But exclusively focusing on past and present differences won’t help us gain a greater understanding of each other, will it? I’d like to imagine that one day I’ll be able to ride the bus in South America without having to wear shin-pads.
– Meaghan Beatley, DFP Staff