Migration in the Saraguros: Positive and Negative Aspects

Migration in the Saraguros: Positive and Negative Aspects

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By Sisapacari Bacacela

In the 90s in Ecuador, migration was accentuated because the economic crisis affected the poorest, low wages no longer covered the basic needs for survival.

The globalized world is imposing itself more and more and more strongly through different means. This space is a wide range of contents and contradictions, a globalization capable of expanding wealth, knowledge and freedoms to unknown limits, but it also threatens to annihilate identities, stifle the spaces and ideologies of the poorest societies and sectors; In other words, it leads us to a global whirlwind of wealth accumulation, homogenization and diffusion of poverty and the emergence of particularities.

This globalization in the cultural sphere encompasses several dimensions such as ethnic, religious, informatics and ecological. In the face of all the destructive energy of globalization that affects humanity from different points, it is necessary to search in the same powers of the globalizing process for strategies that allow undermining that power, that is, to take advantage of the spaces of globalization to universalize ethics, values ​​and principles of cultural minorities. Cultural diversity is a richness and a basis for the dialectical integration of unity-difference.

Globalization and the structural adjustment measures imposed by the neoliberal system of the last 20 years have increased poverty, unemployment, and social and political violence. In the 90s in Ecuador, migration was accentuated because the economic crisis affected the poorest, low wages no longer covered the basic needs for survival. The structural reforms in Ecuador since 1995 and the political and social conflicts accelerate unemployment and the only hope of survival is by leaving the country.

One of the factors for the growing migratory flows is the growing social disparity and inequity that takes hold between the developed and underdeveloped world, which leads many people to move in search of better living standards and opportunities (Lucy Wertenberg in internal migration, pg. 2).

Social changes have affected indigenous peoples unevenly. The governments do not take measures to encourage agriculture and the defense of the environment, in the best of cases the governments of Sixto Duran Ballen and Rodrigo Borja supported the privatization of land resources in favor of businessmen and the loss of communal lands that they were a solution for indigenous families. Added to this, the permanent erosion of the soils, natural disasters and the narrower minifundization of the lands of indigenous households caused the international migration of the Saraguros towards the United States on a smaller scale, Spain and Italy and lately to Australia.

Massive international migration in recent years is a strategy of socio-economic reproduction for many indigenous families in the country, as a result of environmental deterioration, smallholdings, lack of support from the state for small farmers and the absence of sources of work that forces displacement . In this process of economic restructuring, women are the mainstay of socio-cultural reproduction and the axis of family and community survival. And if the woman is the one who sustains the community, because she herself can destroy it, therefore, my reflection goes that with migration, communities lose, disintegrate and can disappear.

I will start by indicating that Saraguro is a canton belonging to the province of Loja, in southern Ecuador, it is located at 2,300 m.a.s.l. with a temperature that oscillates between 10ºc. and 18º c.

Its population is eminently indigenous, with a small group of mestizos in the parish center. Despite the fact that Ecuador is a multi-ethnic society, the national statistics did not contemplate a distinction between indigenous and meztizos.

Never in Latin American history has there been a census of ethnicity that allows the direct identification of indigenous groups.

The main distinction of ethnicity is the sense of identity, language, history, religion and clothing. Of all these elements, the language is the one that has been taken into account. In the 1990 census, language served to classify people; An indigenous household was considered if they spoke a native language or belonged to a household in which some member spoke an indigenous language and was monolingual or bilingual.

Especially the mother tongue or the spoken language is one of the powerful key elements of ethnicity. Thus today in Ecuador we live 3 million indigenous people (CODEMPE, Information).

Therefore, this instrument only classified the population by their cultural tradition and cannot measure the size of the indigenous population. However, Saraguro is defined by being a community of indigenous Quichua. Whose source of economic income is agriculture, livestock, followed by small manufactures such as footwear, clothing.

Since the population of Saraguro historically was the seat of Tahuantinsuyu mythma migrants, during the Inca expansion period it was characterized by a sedentary situation. However, migratory flows are not recent, already in the 1950s 30% of the indigenous population went to the vacant territories of Yacuambi in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in the same way in previous decades there was migration to the mines of Portovelo and Zaruma; many of them went as workers, got married and started homes and live in Santa Rosa. Huaquillas and Zaruma. But they no longer identify as part of our culture.

The lack of arable and productive land that facilitates better production was the first negative aspect that influenced the temporary migration of the Sarguros in 1980 to the mines of Nambija (Zamora), Bella Rica (Santa Isabel, Azuay) and the provision of labor for construction in Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil, it has been said that in Cuenca many Saraguros work in the cultivation of vegetables in San Joaquin, Baños and Cumbe. A recent investigation shows us that only in Cuenca we live 1,000 Saraguros, of which the majority are women. To this process of land parcelling and the growing population is added a natural characteristic, the geological fault that affects the Saraguro canton, especially the communities of Lagunas, Gunudel, Gulacpamba, which are in a continuous sinking and displacement of the lands towards the Cauces of the Jubones River and the Pacific.

Coexistence and home life has changed. Homes are getting smaller and smaller. Although compared to those in the city they are more numerous. The average number of families in each household is five people, the majority live married but the options for free union are increasing, mainly due to the recognition of women's rights and non-violence. The concept of home and marriage that was stricter before due to the strong ideological weight implanted by the Catholic Church is changing. An indigenous woman says "There was no marriage before either. Now only by getting married he can take her to live together so they don't have to get married" (Voces de los Andes, 1998). For indigenous people, marriage is the predominant marital status in 60% while free union reaches 5% in Saraguro (Portrait of Women p.15, 16).

Most of the country's homes are nuclear, made up of a couple with and without children. In 1995 in the cities there were 65% of nuclear homes while in the countryside there were 61% (Portrait of women, Pg. 19). Indigenous women as heads of household reach 58%. At the forum for indigenous women in Ecuador in 1994, a colleague said we are mothers and bosses, especially when the husbands leave as migrants.

In this way the traditional roles of the family and of those who run the household have changed. There are many families with heads of household because their partner is abroad and here I agree with UNIFEM that points out that in the mountains, especially in the provinces of Azuay, Cañar and Loja, the heads of households are female. These role changes have a negative impact on the formation of children in primary and secondary education. Young people before reaching the age of 18 also migrate internally in search of better living conditions and family relationships. As a consequence, the community family disintegration and the loss of cultural identity arises and as a serious case the increasing number of single mothers.

Taking the concept that the home is interpreted as the mediator between individual decisions and the broader social context that allows studying the different responses to structural conditions, not as isolated solutions, but more clearly within a social and economic logic (García Muñoz Oliviera, cited by Lucy Wartenberg). In Saraguro it is the case that in order to defend that home, both men and women have agreed to emigrate abroad as a couple, or in a year to take their wife. Although this agreement favors the couple, it nevertheless produces imbalances with the rest of the members. Children who are left in the care of a relative, grandfather, aunt or in more terrible cases with an employee, have psychological and affective problems, especially children of use of reason. There are abandoned children, without education, with low performance and imbalances in adolescence. In the community of Gulacpamba and Lagunas there is a family in charge of taking care of 20 children between the ages of 3 months to 13 years.

There are no precise migration data but it is estimated that 50% of saraguros are outside their place of origin providing their services in Spain and Italy. At the present time the departure to Spain is a fever, 50% of teachers of bilingual education have left the teaching profession to seek better opportunities in Europe.



* The departure of many colleagues has reduced unemployment, has improved the economic situation of families.
* Obtaining visas for the departure of families could help to broaden cultural ties between the two countries or in the best of cases promote interculturality in a plane of greater respect and understanding, discarding the racism imposed by the colonizing country, although this it is a utopia.
* Crossing borders could in the future allow the restructuring of hegemonic power, due to the majority presence of settlers and migrants who can access political participation.


* Greater social differentiation between rich and poor.
* Family disintegration and the loss of cultural identity, in the same sense loss of professionals and low encouragement towards academic preparation, since the most important thing is to improve the economic level.
* Increase in alcohol consumption by young people, children of migrants and the appropriation of foreign cultural elements such as music, clothing.
* Increasing the cost of life in Saraguro. The land has gained terrible capital gains.
* Lack of labor for agricultural work. At no cost the few men that remain want to work as wage earners, since they compare labor prices in Spain with the local ones.
* There is no clear vision of long-term productive investment for family survival or creating conditions for its future return.
* Accelerated process of transculturation and loss of cultural values. Disinterest in community and social organizational processes.
* They are objects of terrible social discrimination and exploitation for the condition of being illegal. The Saraguros are in the hardest jobs, in agriculture, in construction and other more difficult jobs that the Spanish do not want to do. During their travels they suffer humiliations and violations that transform their souls.


The phenomena of migration affect men and women and produce social, economic and cultural changes. The processes of mobilizing the rural population to the city or abroad are survival strategies because they respond to a search for work to improve living conditions or raise the level of education (in internal migration). This phenomenon is a direct consequence of the changes and economic growth, the accelerated process of urbanization and the very accentuated economic crisis from the 90's. If we make a comparison of the indigenous community of Saraguro with the current one, we see that the inhabitants prefer to abandon their place of origin to benefit from better wages as a migrant.

In this viacrusis both men and women feel their cultural transformation in depth, although the Saraguros have not had very bitter experiences with the coyotes, unlike the women of Azuay and Cañar who are objects of manipulation by the coyotes forced to change their clothes and deposit large quantities of money. This process of acculturation is a latent danger for migrant Saraguros who, in Europe, have begun a process of disidentification, the consequence of which in the future would be very painful for the Saraguro culture.

Therefore, it is necessary to start the construction of the culture of dialogue in the process of communicative reason instead of individualistic instrumental reason, in the contexts of our daily life.


UNIFEM. Portrait of Women, Quito, 1998
UNIFEM. The other half No. 2. Information on women and gender in Ecuador, January 1998
SANTANA, Roberto. "The case of the Saraguros", Rev. Debate, 1990.
PITCHER. Migration in the Austro, July 2001
VARIOUS, Authors, Gender and Andean Reality IV Meeting of Universities of the
Andean Subregion, Cuenca, 2000.
BACACELA, G. Sisapacari, Always Have the Strength to Live, in I WANT TO LIVE, 1999
Course material, provided by Dra. Lucy.

* Professor at the Research Center
Quipucamayuc in Cuenca, Ecuador
[email protected]

Video: How are immigrants and refugees different? (June 2022).


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