One of the things I remember from my trip to Ecuador several years ago is how nearly every Ecuadorian I met there asked where in the United States I was from. At the time I was living in upstate New York, and when I replied that I lived in New York, they always told me that they had a relative- a brother, a cousin, or an uncle- who was living or had lived in New York. I found it remarkable that so many people had relatives in New York, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to have a real conversation about it with anyone.
So when I read a recommendation of the book From Cuenca to Queens by Ann Miles, from Eva at A Striped Armchair, I knew I had to read it as my book for Ecuador. Especially because I visited Cuenca while I was in Ecuador and many of the people who told me about their relatives in New York lived in Cuenca.
From Cuenca to Queens is essentially the story of an anthropologist working in Ecuador and an Ecuadorian family whose oldest son moved to New York City to try to earn money and help out the family. I think it is intended to be an academic book, but it reads very much as a story, so long as you don’t let yourself get too bogged down in the occasional discussion of anthropological theories. Mostly Ann Miles tells the history of her interactions with the Quitasaca family and then presents the text of her interviews with each of the family members in turn. The interviews are also structured chronologically, so as I read, I learned about how the family fared over time. I was constantly rooting for them. The story ends in 2002 and I find myself wondering about the Quitasacas and hoping that they are doing well.
I find that there is a lot of synergy between traveling to Ecuador and reading this book. When I talked to people in Ecuador, I didn’t have much of a sense what it likely meant to them to have a relative in New York- that their relative had most likely traveled illegally, that the relative may have been an important source of money, that the migration may have changed family dynamics in important ways. At the same time, I think I connected to the book much more strongly because of having been there, because of having ridden the bus route between Guayaquil and Cuenca that Lucho Quitasaca sometimes drove, because of having met, however briefly, people with similar experiences.