What is happening to Ecuador’s youth?

It started with an advanced writing class I taught in which the students’ final work would be a research paper and presentation. I didn’t know what to expect from a particular student because she changed her topic at the last minute.

Well it was damn enlightening. She talked about Ecuadorians who immigrate to the United States. And the fact that they send the same amount of money back to their families that Ecuador makes in oil exports. These statistics are probably a little old as data goes, especially in our current economy but all the same, I was surprised.

But what surprised me even more were the repercussions of Ecuadorians moving to the US. The repercussions? I had never heard about the families left behind. I had only heard about how the US is overrun with illegal/legal immigrants and “American dream” stories of tenacity and successes.

It was just assumed from my North American status that families on the receiving end of the money being sent back from those who had escaped to provide a better living were grateful, happy and pleased. Apparently not. It turns out that divorce rates enter the equation. As do second families (in the form of another wife, children, home); they add another x to the algebraic problem. Not to mention the children who turn themselves inside out wondering why they’ve been left behind.

This seems logical, natural even but what my student did was give me in a lesson in division that I didn’t even know existed because the rest of the students seem to be very much aware of all this. But my education did not stop there as I thought it would. It was unfortunate, etc but I didn’t expect to hear about it again until a colleague explained to me another facet to this issue.

I’m not sure how we got on this topic but she shared with me what she had learned from her students. There are two gangs in Cuenca who’s names escaped her but let’s call them M and N. M’s seek out very depressed teens and teach them to cut themselves. They typically have slash marks up their arms.

N’s are the kind of group that you can’t leave. If you try to the gang will kill you and if you want out then you have to kill one of your own family members. This all sounds absurd and obviously this is an extreme situation but from what I have heard the suicide rate for teens here is high. (Or high enough, right.)

You have to remember this is a Catholic society that is extremely family-centric. Sundays are family days. Everyone eats dinner with their family on a daily basis. They spend holidays, festivals, celebrations and vacations with each other. You live with your family until you are married. Mothers and daughters walk arm in arm all over town. It’s common to hear from teenage girls that their mother is their best friend. And I imagine there is a similar bond between the fathers and sons.

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to grow up in the shadow of happy parents w/ their children celebrating together or having dinner every night. Sure these children are left with an extended family member like an uncle or grandmother but it is not the same. Sometimes these cousins don’t want the children or discipline them with a neglectful hand.

This is the perfect example of how money thrown at a situation doesn’t solve anything. These children know that their parents are off making money and sending it “home” for them but I think they would be happier if their parents were with them instead. I don’t know but hearing about the families left behind makes me wonder what some of their stories are.

As an orphan you are left oftentimes to your imagination as to what happened to your parents. Or if you know they left you, at least you are left with the confirmation that you have been utterly abandoned. But for these children they are on a loose tether of sorts. Their parents are providing for them in a materialistic sense perhaps with promises to come back or send for them.

But if their parents are in the US illegally then it becomes a visa nightmare to try to reunite with their children. I’m sure the parents over there are doing what they feel is best. And I know gang situations are a problem everywhere around the world. But I am not all over the world, I am here and I wonder what will happen to Ecuador’s youth.

3 replies on “Left behind

  1. Great post. This is a societal problem for Ecuador and the dark side of remisas and the homes built by immigrants. People that I talk to indicate that it has done great damage to families. The wife is left to raise the children and the man lives a clandestine life in the States. All too frequently none of this has a happy ending.Another sad part is the “disappeared.” Men, and much more frequently young women, who are never heard from again.Would like to know if you get more on this issue.Mike


  2. Thank you. I too have heard the same things from my former students. It would be very interesting if someone took up documenting this trend or phenomenon in Ecuador.I'll add more if I hear of anything. But I hope someone who can make a difference will start to take notice in these children.


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