Ecuadoreans are New York’s fourth largest Latino group, but as a byproduct of this immigrant influx, many Ecuadorean Americans feel that their traditions are in danger. In their adopted land, they fear future generations will lose out on the customs so highly valued by their ancestors.
Ayazamana Cultural Center hopes to change that. Jose Rivera, an Ecuadorean native who immigrated to Queens in 1990, founded the center and teaches traditional folkloric dances native to different regions Ecuador, such as Saraguro, in the Province of Loja; Cayambe in Pichincha; Natabuela in Imbabura and Pujili in Cotopaxi. He’s joined by a volunteer staff, who put aside their day jobs as construction workers and cooks, to help sew costumes and make props for performances.
“I think it’s important to continue our culture, teaching especially children who were born here so that they know where they come from, so that they know the roots of where they’re from,” said Rivera.
There were 167,209 Ecuadoreans living in New York City in 2010, according figures from the Department of City Planning. The bulk of them emigrated during the 1990’s after Ecuador’s economic collapse, settling in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona, and Long Island City in Queens. Many of them hail from the cities of Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.
“Its very important that we teach others about Ecuadorean culture because what happens is, a lot people say they’re Latino, but they don’t really have an understanding or identify themselves with a particular group or a culture,” said Esau Chauca, executive director of Ayazamana, headquartered in Queens.
To the parents, singles, and children who attend the classes every Friday night, the process of wearing costumes and dancing steps from different regions of Ecuador, is more than just a learning experience or a fun night out.
It’s a chance to socialize with other immigrants who’ve had similar journeys to the U.S., and for a short time, recreate their former home, in their new home.