A people of shattered families

Raúl lives in Ecuador. His wife and 4-year-old son live in Spain. They’ve been living there since the son was two, and they’re coming back in one year. Raúl visits them one month a year.

Maria’s husband lives in Italy. They got married right before he left three years ago. He’s visited once, in december last year. In august he’s coming back to Ecuador and the couple can move into their first home.

Both Raúl and Maria are my age. Their lives are just two examples of a reality lots of ecuadorians live in. Emigration shatters families everywhere, for a limited time or forever.

Many emigrants only stay a couple of years to earn some money and then return. Like Franklin, who worked illegally in Spain for two years. A few weeks after he came back, the Spanish government decided to legalize all illegal immigrants, he says with a dry smile. Typical, huh?

Some never move back. On the plane to Ecuador I sat next to a girl my age who was going to see her uncles and aunts for the second time in her life. Her parents have stayed in Canada and are not returning.

I have still to meet the ecuadorian who doesn’t have a family member in Europe or the US. Three million citizens live outside the country. Ecuador’s biggest newspaper, El Universo, has a section called ”Emigration”, with news about the expatriates’ situation and a heartbreaking column with e-mail from them to family and friends in Ecuador.

Four percent of Ecuador’s GNP consists of  ”remesas”, money the emigrants send home to their families. The hardest blow of the global financial crisis in Ecuador is that the emigrants have lost their jobs in Europe and the US, and haven’t been able to send as much money home. The government’s goal is to make Ecuador a country nobody needs to leave, but the remesas are still needed.

Some of the returning Ecuadorians have gotten used to a higher standard of living. ”They get stuck up and think Ecuador isn’t worth anything anymore”, says Maria, who’s afraid her husband will react like that. ”Spain is so clean and nice, and when I came back to Ecuador I could only see the trash and the dirt everywhere”, says Franklin.

But it works the other way around, too. I’ve gotten used to the trash, the pollution, the wild dogs on the streets, the cane shacks people live in, all the houses half finished because the owners ran out of money. I wonder how I’ll react when I return to orderly Europe.


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