A Two Way Street

I was prompted to write this blog because of an hour-long radio program I heard this morning about immigration into the United States from the Americas. According to at least one commentator, the numbers were falling. An article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/world/americas/migrants-new-paths-reshaping-latin-america.html?pagewanted=all) backed him up: “The United States is simply not the magnet it once was.” Nancy and I had an encounter in the Quayaquil airport that made me wonder if the New York Times statement doesn’t work both ways. That is, the U.S. is ceasing to be a magnet for a growing number of its own citizens.

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but such conversations always start up easily outside an airline gate. The woman had been traveling all day. We told her that we were on our way back home after three weeks in Peru and Ecuador.

“Where are you going?” Nancy asked.


“We just came from there,” Nancy responded excitedly. “You’ll love it.”

“I know,” the woman said. “I’m moving there.”

“Where from?”

“L.A.” she said.

To hear that someone was actually moving to Cuenca---from L.A.no less---surprised us.

She was a practical nurse. She had been working in Los Angeles for several years. Recently it was getting harder and harder for her to make ends meet. Two years ago she started searching the internet for the best city in the world to migrate to. After two years, she came up with Cuenca. Here she was on the verge of expatriation.

“What was so attractive about Cuenca?” I asked.

“I can live much better on my retirement than I can in L.A.” she said.

“But won’t you miss your friends in the U.S?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m not the first,” she laughed.

Later I checked online. According to one article there were over 700 Americans in Cuenca. There is even a web site for expatriates living there.

Perhaps it is not so surprising after all. Practically everyone I spoke to in Cuenca would, after a few minutes, tell me a story about a relative who was now living in the United States. According to Sylvia, our Cuenca guide, emigration is a major event in the lives of a great number of Ecuadorians, to the point of breaking up families. She said that the Ecuadorian population of New York City is 1,000,000 (Wikipedia says 695,500.) 

As if to underscore Sylvia's observation, a waiter at our hotel, the Santa Lucia, told us that his mother was coming back to Ecuador—she is being deported—after living and working in the U.S. for 17 years. He said when he was ten years old, she told him and his 12 year old brother that she was leaving to make money. The two boys were left to fend for themselves while their mother, pregnant at the time—though they didn't know it—went to New York to find work. Now she was coming home again. The waiter visited his mother in New York a few months back. That was when he discovered he had a half-sister. She is sixteen years old, born in America and doesn't want to leave home for some foreign country like Ecuador. This is the kind of complication that emigration has imposed on the country that has given us, among other things, the Panama hat and Christina Aguilera.

Now, apparently, the people highway connecting Ecuador and the U.S. is becoming a two-way thoroughfare.

When times change, people are incredibly adroit at finding ways to change with them.