My Great-Grandparents Who Changed My World


In my Facebook newsfeed, I see pictures of my great-grandparents posted, re-posted, commented, tagged, and shared by my relatives in the United States, Ecuador, and Italy. It’s crazy to see how my family continues to speak of my great-grandparents as if they were alive with us in the 21st century. My Great-Aunt Marlene once said:

Your great-grandparents set a fine example to your family. They will live in every generation. Their tradition is what keeps them alive.

Ever since I was a kid, my mother and her sisters talked about Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo all the time. If they hear a bird chirp by the window, one of them would start a story about how Mami Carmen taught them how to listen to the unspoken language of nature. If they dream about them, the aunts would gather in a circle and talk about the meaning of the dream. If they see a dad play with his little girl, they would talk about how Papi Teofilo played tag with my mom even though he came back from a thousand-mile journey from the sea.

I talk to them in my prayers. I re-tell their stories to my cousins and siblings. I also dream about them and thank them for the visit.

Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo were born and raised in Comuna Data de Villamil. They had a lot of ancestral tradition and knowledge in their souls. Papi Teofilo was the captain of a few cargo ships. He sailed in the sea many times a year. Mami Carmen was a seamstress, storyteller, medicine woman, and caretaker of 10 acres of ancestral land. She looked out into the sea singing songs for Papi Teofilo. Both were respected by their comuneros in Data de Villamil. They always helped a neighbor in need.

In 1955, Comuna Data de Villamil was not the best place to raise my grandmother and her sisters. As my grandma describes the experience in her own words: “It was lonely up there. We got pretty bored, plus we had no high school.” Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo wanted the best education for their children. They moved to Guayaquil and transferred their fishing routes from Data to Guayaquil City.

They were the first Quinde-Crespin clan to step out of their ancestral land Data de Villamil. However, a second family followed them and supported each other during the transition.

From 1955-1987, my great grandparents lived in Guayaquil and Data de Villamil.  My mother was a child when Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo managed ten kids, a rental property, a grocery store, a fishing business, a family clan of 500+ relatives, and 10 acres of ancestral land. My mother was exposed to their tradition day in and day out. She learned the ancestral stories of El Tin-Tin and El Buque Fantasma. She made the sign of the cross before bathing in the beach, as she ws taught. She chirped to Chawi, a mythical bird that brought luck to Data de Villamil. She was daughter of the Quinde-Crespin family, heiress of Wankavilka culture, descendant of Indigenous people, and also Ecuadorian, forming part of a new nation.

Can you believe that every time I hear a bird chirp, I think of the unspoken language Mami Carmen talked about? Can you believe that El Tin-Tin, a 1000 year-old story about a mythical creature running around the hills, still exists? Can you believe that I know what my family totem pole means and what spiritual animal we come from and belong to? Thanks to them, I know who I am, too.

I am also son of the Quinde-Crespin family, heir of Wankavilka culture, descendant of Indigenous people, and first-born Ecuadorian-American in today’s society.

Stay in touch with your roots and take time this break to learn about your ancestors, too. Start out by asking relatives to share a story. You get to know who you are through oral tradition. Happy Holidays!

This entry was posted in October 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

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