Monday, May 31, 2010

Good Read

I just read a really good article by Dr. Lee Dubs. For any of you that do not know Lee, he and Carol (his wife) run the Carolina book shop on Hermano Miguel y Calle Larga.

The article is entitled "The Gringo Invasion" and is something I think should be online so I am going to put it on the blog. This article comes from the April/May issue of : Azuay are we Here, pages 16 and 17.
Azuay Are We Here has recently gone online from print and I have added a link to it.
(I am reprinting this with permission. I am in no way claiming to have authored this or take any credit for it in any way. I think this should be required reading for all incoming or those considering a move to Cuenca.)

The Gringo Invasion

written by Dr. Lee Dubs

There are two follow-up questions to the catchy name of this exciting new magazine, and those are : "Azuay are gringos coming to Ecuador in droves?", and "What does the future hold for gringos here in Azuay?" (Azuay is the province in which Cuenca is located(added by JD)).In case you have not noticed, North Americans are showing up here en masse, with what appear to be dozens of newcomers arriving in Cuenca each month.My own love affair with Cuenca began exactly 20 years ago, when one seemingly could count the number of gringos on two hands--or maybe one. So, why the influx, and what does it portend?
The answer to the first question is easy. Travel magazines such as International Living, as well as certain blogs, are currently filled with messages that make you look like a fool if you don't immediately grab your money and move from North America to Ecuador. Various writers extol the virtues of living here, with most or even all of the emphasis on economic advantages. What some newcomers do not realize at first is that many of those articles and blogs are written by people who have financial gain at stake with the import of gringos bearing money.
Simply put, some writers make no small amount of money selling, tours, real estate, and what-have-you. Promote it and they will come, seeking the promised land where- they are happy to tell you -living like royalty is as cheap as Ecuadorian dirt.
The answer to the second question is more complicated. What is it all leading up to? That depends on what we do after we are here, folks. Many of us came to Cuenca to live in retirement where we genuinely like the people, the culture, and the opportunities to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. We have felt welcome; the economy is a bonus. Toward the other end of the "why" spectrum are those coming primarily or even solely because "it's cheap", and some newcomers see little beyond an investment opportunity and/or a bargain lifestyle. I have seen gringos who arrive in Cuenca on a Sunday with the determination to buy or invest quickly and fly back to the States by the end of the week.
Unfortunately, those who fly down here to buy cheap land may not have thought through the fact that they will be living where most things are very different: language, culture, food, driving, even the manner of thinking, planning, and analyzing. The response of many gringos who feel the early stages of culture shock is to first criticize almost everything local, and then to seek the security of camaraderie among other gringos. After they ask me, "Where do all the expats live?", some recent arrivals express surprise that we Cuenca gringos do not cluster; that we do no more than have very informal weekly social gatherings. "Don't you all live together?", some ask. No,we don't, and let's keep it that way, thank you.
Newcomers may indeed find cheap land, their cheap houses and their cheap lifestyle, but too many are not comfortable among Ecuadorians: They seek out other gringos, not only for social events but also for a degree of comfort. Sociologists refer to this as the need for familiar props. The maladjusted and distressed often catch a flight back home or, worse, soon talk of building walled communities, irreverently referred to by the rest of us as "grongo colonies". In other words, they want to create a Little America. If examples of gringo colonies in Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica are followed in Ecuador, there is trouble brewing. In fact, conflicts between gringos and locals already are occurring in some regions of this country.
What is it that has begun to distress Euadorians about the gringo influx? First of all, let us be clear that Ecuadorians do not resent the many who come to assimilate and who call Ecuador-not North America-home. Cuencanos appreciate those of us who use (or at least try to use) the spanish language, who treat Ecuadorians as equals, and who have native amigos as well as gringo friends. However, they are well aware of rapidly escalating real estate prices, as new gringos are eager to throw money at not only the scrupulous but also the opportunistic realtors and private sellers. As Ecuadorians increasingly cannot afford to buy real estate in their own country, hostility emerges. That hostility has already been observed beyond Azuay.
And then there are the "do gooders", the transplants who want to "help" the less fortunate. Those warm and fuzzy gringos unwittingly disrupt the cultural and economic flow by overpaying, overtipping, and overhelping. Such actions result in altered expectations by locals and the hidden feeling that gringos are both filthy rich and pretty stupid. We now see "gringo prices" alongside local costs.
Like it or not, gringos-whether residents or tourists-also attract some unwanted attention, and we have witnessed the escalation of petty theft, home invasions, and even aggressive street holdups. Crime beyond snatch-and-run was uncommon in Cuenca until the gringo invasion began a few years ago. Fairly or not, we get some of the blame.
How long will Cuencanos tolerate us before we see some major negative reaction here in Azuay? Fortunately, the answer to that question is in our own hands. We control our future in Ecuador by how we act now. Assimilation or isolation? Good Neighbor or Ugly Gringo? Azuay are you here?
Nice job Lee.