From Whence I Came

Next week my husband, 7.5-year-old son and I will travel to Guayaquil, Ecuador, my maternal homeland. My husband and son have never been; I have not been for 14 years.

As the date of our departure approaches, I find myself filled with a wide range of emotions. I keep on visualizing the moment the pilot will announce our descent into Guayaquil. We are flying overnight and I hope to sleep but I am not sure I will given my excitement and anticipation.

Growing up, my older brother and I spent nearly every summer in Ecuador, with our Abuelita (grandmother), aunts, uncles and cousins. It is tradition that once the plane lands, everyone claps. I cannot wait for that clap. I love that tradition — it is the first symbol of our having arrived in another world, a world I descend from.

During my childhood summers, despite the fact that I was being raised in NYC, am American and also speak English, I always felt a sense of belonging and comfort that I have never felt in this country. In Ecuador, I saw so many faces that echoed my own. I would walk the neighborhood my mother and her siblings had been raised in and people would know me as “la nieta de la Sra. Aleja” (“Mrs. Aleja’s granddaughter”). I would stay in my mother’s childhood home and run into relatives in the neighborhood. My summers in Ecuador reminded me that though my home was in NYC, my history was in Guayaquil.

As I prepare to return after such a long absence, after my own father and other beloved relatives have died, I am moved to know that I will be uniting my history with my present. My husband and son form my home now, and to set foot in the country of my ancestors, with the love of my life and our descendant, is a true blessing.

I am fortunate that I will also be sharing this trip with my mother, la autora de mis días (“the author of my days”). Ever since my father died in November 2011, I have felt a permanent ache in my chest but I have also felt immense gratitude for the universe allowing my mother to remain with us. The loss of a parent is devastating and once you’ve lost one, it makes you that much more aware of the preciousness of the time you have with the one who remains.

I am grateful for every moment I am allowed to share with my mother, knowing how much my father has missed and how missed he is. One of the most cherished aspects of the time I share with my mother is witnessing her relationship with my son. They absolutely adore each other and it is powerful to observe the love shared between the woman who gave me life and the boy whose life I brought forth.

My son, like me, is bilingual, so when he arrives in Ecuador, he will be able to communicate seamlessly with his relatives, and I believe like me, he will also feel a whole other sense of belonging and comfort. I grew up the multiethnic, bilingual daughter of a white, Jewish-American father and a brown, Ecuadorian mother. My son is also growing up multiethnic and bilingual, but unlike me, he is presumed to be white and is at an age where he is keenly aware of the stares, questions and challenges he and his family receive almost daily.

In Ecuador, I am sure we will also be stared at, but it will be within a very different context, a context that has informed how I am raising my son. Given that my mother was not raised in this country, she and my father raised me and my brother with a sense of our identity as Ecuadorians as well as with a sense of our identity as Americans. And now, my husband and I are doing the same with our son.

My husband, like my father, is also a white American male who believes the narrative of America is a far cry from the reality of America and in order for this country to live up to its ideals, it must face its history. My husband loves that his presumed to be white son is in fact a bilingual, multiethnic individual who is also in more ways than one, a global citizen. My son would not have a name in Spanish or be bilingual if my husband did not also wish to rewrite the narrative of this country.

The experience of being in Ecuador with my mother, my husband, my son and other relatives will be unforgettable. To live between languages and cultures is often a lonely reality and rare is the opportunity to blend those truths. On this trip I will have that rare opportunity and I will relish it.

Next week as our plane begins its initial descent into Guayaquil and we have clapped alongside the other passengers once it is on the ground, I will have tears in my eyes. They will be tears of joy. They will be tears of anticipation. They will be tears of gratitude for the gift of returning to the land from whence I came.

Bilingual. New Yorker. Multiethnic. Change Agent. Author of “Strength of Soul” (2Leaf Press; University of Chicago Press, April 2019)