Asian American · Ecuador · Expat

An Asian American in South America

Treats.
Treats and sweets for sale.

I blend. Oddly enough, I melt into the landscape of Cuenca Ecuador. Even though Ecuador is not known for having a large population of Asians I certainly do not draw the attention that my gringo friends do. And that suits me very fine.

Because Caucasian women are so different here they catch the hungry eyes of men via wolf whistles, cat calls, horn honks and claims of mi amore. They also attract the attention of thieves. Upon moving here, I’ve heard stories after stories of slashed backpacks, a stolen iPod in full daylight (and in a store no less), snatched passports and other coveted items. These dirty dozen use children to crawl under seats on buses to get to your bag or use distraction techniques in order to claim their prize.

So, yeah I don’t mind blending in.

Sure folks stare, but more often than not I’m probably considered an Asian Latin American. I can walk around town, by the river, cross the street and not be even glanced at. As a foreigner and a writer, this is anthropological heaven indeed. I don’t want, need or desire men making hissing noises at me and I certainly don’t want a thief to think, “Ah, another rich gringo, let me watch and wait.”

Of course, I could be pegged at any moment so I try to be aware of whose around me at all times and keep my valuables out of sight. My irritation or pet peeve of people walking behind me (I don’t know why I am like this) serves me well. It drives my friends crazy, but if it keeps me safe then crazy is alright and good.

Since I encountered the racism or stereotype of ‘only white people can teach English’ in Thailand, I wondered how I would be received in Ecuador. I’m pleased to announce that my students have been respectful in this regard. I asked a fellow teacher who is hapa (mixed race: Filipino and Caucasian) how her experience has been and she said everyone thinks she’s Colombian. Although, she shared that she is considered a gringo.

I have heard people refer to me (and people who look like me) as Chino, Chinita and Asiática. Apparently these are not derogatory terms however. Like gringo they are merely descriptive. Coming from Hawaii where terms like haole are not exactly flattering, I had to know. Although, I can’t help but think gringo is not a term of endearment either.

Red lanterns means Chinese owned shop.
Red lanterns means Chinese owned shop.

There are a few chinos (despite their true ethnicity) that own businesses around town, but for the most part it is rare to see an Asian in Cuenca. But, I have seen a few tourists: an old Japanese man and a couple of Japanese women. It is an interesting sight to study and my next stop must be visiting one of these shops.

I had lunch at a Taiwanese restaurant last week and it was peculiar to see Asians speaking Spanish, but nice to see that the restaurant was packed and doing good business. That said the food was okay. I miss Asian food. There is a sushi restaurant here too, but it was disappointing. (not run by Asians)

I wonder how these transplants ended up here and do they like it? Because while I blend to a certain extent I don’t know if I fit in here either; I suppose if I have to ask I don’t. But the rest of South America still needs to be explored.

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