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Learning from Afro-Ecuadorians as an Act of Global Leadership

November 2, 2020
Lisa Corak
Afro-Ecuadorians and Global Leadership students sitting at a table sharing their culture

The Power of Culture

As the Program Coordinator for Royal Roads University's Global Leadership programs, I travelled with students to Ecuador for an experiential element of their global studies. We were privileged to form the relationships that allowed us to visit Afro-Ecuadorian communities and experience their culture, challenges, and leadership. Afro-Ecuadorians primarily live in a small community north of Quito and a small community near Esmeraldas. They are understood to be decedents of African slaves who accompanied Spanish settlers to Ecuador during the 16th century. 

In my commitment to stem inherent racism, I have been endeavouring to listen deeply to the experiences of my Afro-Ecuadorian friends. To promote a deeper understanding of how anti-Black racism operates in different global contexts, here are their messages of strength from their culture: 

Do you identify as Afro-Ecuadorian?

Eliza: Yes, I like to be called Afroecutorina, but I prefer to be called bold.

Monica: Yes, I like the combination of our ancestral roots of Africa and our Ecuadorian nationality. Of course, in children and young people you see a little fear or shame in the population, especially in those who live in the cities, to say that you are Afro-descendant or Black. I think that it is a task of parents to remember the roots from which they arose and the value and sacrifice that our ancestors made so that we now have those freedoms that we enjoy today, such as education.

Anita: Some people like to be called “Black” others “Afro-Ecuadorian”. They say that Black is denigrating and by calling us “Afros” it is vindication. At the time of birth, they baptized me with a name and that is how I would like to be called. That is the only difference we have, our names, it is what distinguishes us from others. We are all the same, we are human beings.

How does your culture give you strength?

Eliza: It is always good to know your roots. I love [my culture] because it is pure strong; they cannot buy you. When you want something, fight for your dreams. What we are [has come] with a lot of effort.

Monica: I believe it is very important to know the culture to which we belong and to feel proud of it. You can contribute, other people can know, learn, and value their culture. In my case, I had the guidance of very wise women like my grandmother and my mother. For me it is the value and importance that other people from abroad give to our culture which is very important. With small steps, take actions that contribute to strengthening the Afro-Ecuadorian culture. Last year we did a talk [and] we played traditional games that they had not done for a long time.

Anita: I bring rooted in me the history of my ancestors, their experiences, their struggles to eradicate injustice, to create better days for their generations. We are strong, brave, happy, kind, hard-working people. We are a people with a lot of history, we are a people that fights to claim our rights, to be treated equally, to have the same opportunities. My culture gives me power, yes, the power to decide, the power to be myself, the power to be and do for myself and for others. Because I am a people with history, and I am part of it. A story that despite its difficulties has allowed me to grow.

With thanks to our friends: Anita Lucia Lara, Eliza Manteca Oñate and Monica Yepez for sharing their perspectives with me.

  • Anita Lucia Lara is a leader of artisan women GAEN who learn about their culture, identity, ancestry and customs through art.
  • Eliza Manteca Oñate is the owner of Casa Eliza as well as founder and president of the Golondrinas Foundation. Their purpose is teaching children to care about the health of the land.  
  • Monica Yepez is the owner and operator of Golontours and part of a guide collective in Northern Ecuador promoting the culture, diversity and ecological sustainability of the region.  She is also a member of the Golondrinas Foundation:  

For more information about Afro-Ecuadorians and their ancestral music, check out this video.