I celebrate Indigenous People’s Day in 2013 by inviting my friends and readers to join me on a journey where I’m in the process of re-claiming my Wankavilka Comunero identity, language, and heritage.
At six years old, I already knew my family was Native. Some of them told me where we came from and who our ancestors were. Others danced El San Juanito, an Ecuadorian Native folklore dance, in parties. My grandmother fed me our Native seafood, my mother taught me our Native songs, and my family showed me pictures of our comunero land.
When I was born, my paternal grandmother wrapped me in a shawl. She massaged my face every morning. She told me stories of our ancestors. She braided my hair and cut it when I turned three, a typical Ecuadorian custom.
“I do this so that he would grow a beautiful, thin, and strong,” she said. She had a happy smile on her face. “That’s what the elders told me when I was a little girl. That’s what their elders told them when they were kids. That’s how they used to do it back then.”
As a first-generation growing up in New York City, like many migrant parents and children, I wrestled with my identity in an urban-Latino-American setting. I grew up in a Caribbean neighborhood where my Mexican babysitters passed down their tradition to me for years. Also, my Ecuadorian family intermarried with Dominican, Puerto Rican, Italian, and Mexican family clans.
My mother stayed true to her tradition by marrying an Ecuadorian man by choice. Both came from similar Manabíta/Guayako background. Both understood the importance of Native traditions and culture ties to their land. But it was a challenge to preserve a Native identity when so much is thrown at you in New York City. We came close to losing it till we collectively decided to actively rescue, respect, and recognize our Native culture in our present-day lives.
As I walk in the steps of my Wankavilka comunero ancestors, I will write about how my experiences of reclaiming my Native identity would affect my personal life, belief system, and perspective in place. But I also acknowledge that my Wankavilka comunero tradition was always, to some extent, alive in our family clan in New York, Ecuador, and Italy. I’m really proud of my ancestors’ effort in maintaining, protecting, and preserving the Wankavilka comunero culture and land in present day Ecuador.
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