I wake up in a dream. It takes me to the sea. I spread my body like a starfish right on the beach. Chawis fly across the sky. Crabs glow red under the hot sun. Then – I hear someone whistle in the distance.
I get up and walk towards the sea and my feet sink in the warm shores. I wait for his boat to get closer. I wave with suspiros and he waves back with a smile. He dives into the water like a dolphin and swims towards me. Mi Cholo Guapo. My fisherman. My Lover – He hugs me.
In my culture, dreams tell us something special from the spirit world. Dreams warn us. Dreams make us laugh. Dreams point us in the right direction of our destiny.
My fisherman dream is a recurring theme ever since I was a kid. And today, I finally realize why I dreamed so much about it.
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I was gay. I knew I liked playing with girls and I admired guys. I understood both worlds – and I liked it. But I also knew it was “wrong” to be gay by the way my biological father criticized them. He made fun of the way they walked, the way they talked, and the way they teased guys. He came home to talk about some “pato” or “marica” and my mother ignored him. But I cringed at the thought of even telling him.
My mother, however, believes that everyone deserves a right to love and to be loved. She comes from a family with little prejudice – even though some of them can be racist and homophobic sometimes. In general, though, they do not comment. They support everyone’s lifestyle with a voluntary or oblige-voluntary smile on their faces.
I kept my identity a secret all this time. As I grew older, I allowed my identity to be expressed in safe spaces like my bedroom or in the park. By expression, I mean meditating, dancing, writing my thoughts in a journal, exploring my feelings, and sketching portraits.
But I also prayed to Baby Jesus every night to take away this stain. I prayed to the Virgin Mary to NOT make me gay for the rest of my life. But it was no use. I woke up the next day feeling the same – guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and sad. I faced the same indirect discrimination in school – kids using words like “that’s gay, what a fag, homo…”
I came out to my mother as soon as I turned fourteen.
“I still love you,” she said giving me a hug. “You’re beautiful just the way you are.”
She encouraged me to embrace my identity to the fullest. She even told me my maternal family clan had several gay relatives today and in the past. Many of them kept their identity a secret, too, because the Ecuadorian government would send them to prison for being gay. Also, in some rural towns, people took it upon themselves to stone gays to death in public.
In 2014, Ecuador is still anti-gay even though the government enacted a new law that allowed same-sex couples to live in union and in peace. In Quito, gay conversion facilities and institutions arose and gave parents permission to correct their children’s “gay tendencies” – with therapy and counseling. These “counseling” sessions, however, involve psychological, emotional, and domestic abuse, plus rape. Also, the parents authorize the institution to send their employees to kidnap their children at any given moment of the day. Then, the children forcibly start their therapy at isolated places in the Andes Mountains where no one can hear their screams.
On a lighter note, there are few communities that believe gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people should be praised, honored and respected. Comuna Montanita, Comuna San Pablo, and Comuna Engabao are the few communities in Wankavilka Territory that protect their people in a safe space where they can express their identity.
According to oral tradition, the people of Comuna Engabao are direct descendants of the last Huancavilca Chief Tumbala. He lived to defeat the Incas three times and fought the Spanish with one victory in 1540. He lived in Puna Island – the ancient geopolitical capital of the Huancavilca Nation. He was also a great warrior who was married to many wives and to his favorite Enchaquirado (gay man).
Enchaquirados used to hold high position of power in Huancavilca society before 1535. As young boys, they were sent to religious temples to get spiritual and political training from shamans and chiefs. They were adorned with reptilian regalia, seashell necklaces, deer hive, plumes, gems, and jaguar shawls. They were prepared to become the next shaman of his people, the mediator of his family clan disputes, the protector of his temples, and the future wife of his local chief.
The Spanish chronicles even mentioned, “Their young boys seem to hold a high position of Huancavilca power and influence over his people. He is even dressed better than the women.”
The Spanish conquistadors punished the Huancavilca Nation for indulging in “Satan’s” ways. They quickly introduced the Huancavilca people to Catholic codes of moral conduct – which “corrected” gay tendencies and forced women to serve men. The Spanish also killed Enchaquirados to set an example for the rest of the locals to abide by Spanish laws and expectations in colonial reservation camps. Ever since then, Enchaquirados lost their place in a machista society – making them feel useless, worthless, and ashamed.
Comuna Engabao is the only community that follows this Wankavilka tradition to the letter. Enchaquirados are treated as people with a right to love and a right to be. Enchaquirados play tag with children in the park, cook with women, play soccer with men, and even flirt with fishermen right on the shore. Enchaquirados go by two names: birth name and warrior name.
They live peacefully in Engabao. They have important stories and experiences to share with their Wankavilka Comuneros. One surprising fact states:
An Enchaquirado can hold a relationship with a straight man in Engabao – and there is nothing wrong about that in our culture.
In fact, straight men engage in serious relationships with both – Enchaquirados and women in Comuna Engabao. In Enchaquirado John’s case, he had a serious relationship with his ex-boyfriend for many years until his ex decided to get married with a woman. John was heartbroken, but he took the extra step of his Enchaquirado role to become the wedding planner of his ex’s marriage.
Once in church, the priest marries the couple and Engabao comuneros say:
“Long live the husband! Long live the wife! And long live the other wife (Enchaquirado)!”
Also, after a straight man ends a relationship with an Enchaquirado, he is available to a pool of Engabao women and Enchaquirados again. On the other side of the coin, an Enchaquirado is also available to a pool of Engabao men.
“The plan is to protect Enchaquirado tradition in Engabao society, to restore our ancestral practices, and to share this culture with other Enchaquirados in Playas Villamil County,” John mentions in an interview. John and his Enchaquirado crew created a new initiative where they encourage other Enchaquirados to take pride in their identity and re-learn their Indigenous tradition, practices, and role in Engabao society.
Engabao people re-incorporate Wankavilka culture and emphasize Indigeneity in their community to protect their communal territory from expropriation. Their efforts play a big role where 70+ comunas in Santa Elena Peninsula are rescuing their Wankavilka culture in order to keep their Indigenous tradition alive and to become a more organized Wankavilka Nation in the Ecuadorian coast. The Wankavilka people are facing a national dilemma where their lands are in danger of expropriation due to the misconception of their “Indio” identity. Ecuadorians assume an Indigenous person needs to speak their Indigenous language and wear their Indigenous traditional clothes to be “Indio.” Otherwise, they are considered “mestizos” and form part of the Ecuadorian society. Wankavilka people are NOT mestizos, but they inherited 500,000 hectares (size of Rhode Island) of ancestral land under their name and power – which is what defines their Indigenous identity.
“Culture is Cure” – I heard this from the Northeast Two Spirit Society last week at their presentation at the American Indian Community House in New York City. I have to agree, after all these years of self-hate, low self-esteem, and shame, I finally came to terms with my gay identity through Wankavilka Indigenous identity.
It has more to do with just being gay or choosing a sexual preferences. It means claiming a culture that is rightfully ours, which includes our language, our customs, our songs, and even our Two-Spirit people. It means re-claiming a sacred role our ancestor used to have and restore the respect and honor we are entitled with. It means loving ourselves for who we are.
If one day I find my fisherman lover, that would be lovely, but most importantly, my dream led me to discover that my Indigenous Nation still practices Two-Spirit culture where I have the privilege to be who I am in a safe space in a traditional Wankavilka society. Maybe that’s where I need to go one day and learn my role…