Ecuador has a very diverse geographical landscape: Pacific coast, Andean highland, Amazonian rain forest, and Galapagos archipelago. The country equally expresses a great level of cultural and social diversity. In this manner, Ecuador reflects an enormous depth and richness when it comes to cultural production, which is expressed in the multiple racial and ethnic communities produced by the European colonization of the native indigenous population, and the more recent global migrations (particularly from Asian and Middle Eastern countries) and North American neo-colonial control of the territory. These varied cultural and historical realities only emphasize the rich traditions expressed in the different arts, such as literature, painting, and music, but also in the ever-changing production of popular culture. Most recently it has been the indigenous struggle that, since its paradigmatic 1990 uprising, has captured the national, and international scholarly imagination. Ultimately, the indigenous social movement and transnational migration best capture the dynamic political and socioeconomic landscape of the country, and its ever-present struggle, under incredible neo-colonial duress, to become a viable democratic nation with greater access to resources and human dignity for all its citizens.
The following works provide a broad introduction to the different dynamics of the Ecuadoran nation-state. Primary among them is the study of the country’s political structure by the former President Hurtado, Hurtado 1981. Another good place to start is the edited volume de la Torre and Striffler 2009, which offers a wide range of articles and analyses on the country. In a similar vein, Weismantel 2001 engages with the specific racial and sexual discourses that affect Ecuador within the greater Andean region, while Muratorio 1991 explores similar themes in the Amazon. The country’s racial dynamics are also similarly engaged by de la Torre Espinosa 1996, offering an introduction to the manner in which racial discourses play out within the greater national landscape. In terms of a historical understanding Benavides 2004 offers a historiographical critique that engages with the major historical contributions, as well as the role that the past plays in the present production of the nation. In this manner, the fictionalized account Benitez Vinueza 1945 of Orellana’s initial voyage into what today is the Amazon offers an intimate understanding of the violent and painful colonial encounter. Finally, Guerrero 1991 is a discursive analysis of colonial domination that provides a good synthesis of the manner in which history and politics are pervasively embedded in today’s daily reality.
Benavides, O. Hugo. Making Ecuadorian Histories: Four Centuries of Defining Power. Austin: Texas University Press, 2004.
The text is an original attempt in understanding the politics of Ecuadoran historiography. It doubly strives to provide a very local understanding of Ecuadoran history-making that has fueled the national imagination, while assessing the manner in which these regional forms of historical productions relate to greater issues of globalization and cultural representation.
Benitez Vinueza, Leopoldo. Los argonautas de la selva. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1945.
The book is a fictionalized account of Francisco de Orellana’s expedition through what would after him be known as the Amazon River. The text goes a long way in acknowledging the incredible historical feat that exploring the region signified, while still maintaining the tension of empire, colonialism, and decimation that this mission would represent.
de la Torre Espinosa, Carlos. El racismo en Ecuador: Experiencias de los indios de clase media. Quito, Ecuador: Centro Andino de Acción Popular, 1996.
The element of race is a vital construct of the national Ecuadoran imaginary. The book explores the contradictory manner in which notions of race are complicated by status and class in different national communities’ daily livelihoods.
de la Torre, Carlos, and Steve Striffler. The Ecuador Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.
Spanning the years before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s to the present, this rich anthology addresses colonialism, independence, the nation’s integration into the world economy, and its tumultuous 20th century. The collection is quite ambitious in its scope and, not surprisingly, suffers from the limitation of trying to do the impossible task of synthesizing Ecuador in one book.
Guerrero, Andres. La semántica de la dominación: El concertaje de indios. Quito, Ecuador: Ediciones Libri Mundi y Enrique Grosse-Luemern, 1991.
A very sophisticated analysis of the discursive elements inherent in the colonial domination of the indigenous communities during early republican times. The main contribution of the text is the manner in which the author goes beyond the empirical evidence to understand the larger, centuries-old hidden social scriptures that still fuel the regional logic of race.
Hurtado, Osvaldo. El poder político en el Ecuador. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta Ariel, 1981.
An insightful look at the political structure of the Ecuadoran nation. The analysis offers a nuanced political science perspective on the differing social legacies that have affected the production of the political structure, including political parties, in the country.
Muratorio, Blanca. The Life and Times of Grandfather Alonso: Culture and History in the Upper Amazon. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991.
Alonso’s story covers about a century because he incorporates his ancestors’ oral tradition along with his own. Through his life story we learn how the Quichua resisted attacks against their social identity, their ethnic dignity, and their symbolic systems.
Weismantel, Mary. Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001.
Although not exclusively about Ecuador, the text provides an insightful and unique comparative perspective on the varying politics of race and sexuality in the central Andes. The author has a unique anthropological and historical knowledge of the region that allows us to appreciate Ecuador, and the other Andean nations, as part of a larger regional, and global, social formation.
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