Begging as a Path to Progress: Indigenous Women and Children and the Struggle for Ecuador's Urban Spaces

Begging as a Path to Progress: Indigenous Women and Children and the Struggle for Ecuador's Urban Spaces

Begging as a Path to Progress: Indigenous Women and Children and the Struggle for Ecuador's Urban Spaces

Begging as a Path to Progress: Indigenous Women and Children and the Struggle for Ecuador's Urban Spaces

Excerpt

A young indigenous girl approximately six years old approaches
a foreign tourist. She wears jogging pants under an anaku
skirt, a chumbi woven belt, a faded Walt Disney T-shirt, and
a blue chalina wrapped around her shoulders. “Regálame
(Give me a gift), she says, while extending her open hand. At a
busy intersection, a member of the Ecuadorian upper-middle
class encounters a young indigenous woman at his driver-side
window while he idles at a stoplight in his SUV. “Compre chicles
(Buy gum), the young woman says, with a few packets of gum
lodged between her fingers. Catching the driver’s eye, she gives
a supplicating gesture and points to the toddler strapped to her
back: “para el wawito” (for the baby).

Since the mid-1990s rural indigenous women and children from the central Andes have been migrating to beg and sell gum on the streets of Ecuador’s largest cities. The majority of these women and children are from the small, high-altitude community of Calhuasí, in the province of Tungurahua (figure 2). Begging and, more recently, selling gum have emerged as key means to overcome diminishing agricultural returns and to meet rising cash demands for basic necessities. No longer able to sustain themselves from the land alone, by the mid-1990s women and children began to join the ranks of men in temporary out-migration. With few marketable skills and limited employment options, they turned to begging and quickly discovered it as a viable means of earning income. Since then, begging has evolved to become more than merely a survival strategy; it now intersects with conspicuous consumption, status, educational fulfillment, and the drive to be included in consumer culture.

While their overall numbers are small, these young women and children are representative of much larger processes. Begging is a symbolically charged activity. Their presence on the streets is a daily reminder of the poverty that . . .

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