Tag Archives: Ecuador

Ecuadorian Parties in Chicago

Main Piece:

Participant marked with CM below. I am noted as LJ.

LJ: What was it like growing up in Chicago as an Ecuadorian?

CM: We had a lot of parties where you pay $20 at the door. We have a lot of Ecuadorian artists that um donate their time. And we have, um, a lot of people who make food for us. Oh, and we all dance from like 7 to 2am.

LJ: What else happens at these parties?

CM: We don’t really like to spend money on outside people. The community supports eachother…we’re a small community so we’re really family based.



I asked the participant to tell me about what it was like to grow up Ecuadorian in Chicago. She touched on parties and food–above is the party aspect of it.


The participant is a first generation Ecuadorian-American in Chicago. She is currently a first year at the University of Southern California.


The Ecuadorian community in Chicago seems very close knit by the way that the parties seem to operate. The participant spoke about feeling a great support within the community. It is evident in how she mentions that, for their parties they reach out to other people within their neighborhood. Music, food, and fun serves to help the keep the group together.

The participant later went on to tell me that she feels that these parties help maintain the traditions of Ecuador–that they are especially important to those who have never been or can not go back to Ecuador.


Sunday Family Barbecues

The informant is a 39 year old male from Ecuador. His family used to live in Ecuador, where he was born. He moved to live in Southern California with his immediate family and cousins.

Informant’s Tradition: Every Sunday, my family makes barbecues. It’s always carne asada, or some form of carne asada and ribs. Sometimes other families will come over and it turns into a bigger party, but it’s just what my mom does. If my uncle comes over, he’ll bring something else. If I go, I’ll usually get guacamole and salsa. My mom has always been more of a house wife, taking care of the kids. When I was a kid, she always took care of me and the other kids. She takes care of my sister’s kids, so she’s always been like the homemaker.

Collector: Why do you think your mom does this?

Informant: That’s just who she was. She was the oldest sibling–she was the first daughter, so she has six brothers and sisters. And she always helped my mom take care of the other siblings. My mom enjoys it.

Collector: Where did your mom learn this from?

Informant: From my grandma. My grandma used to own a restaurant, so she taught my mom how to cook.

Collector: What does this mean to you?

Informant: To me, I think it’s just a way of keeping the family together, always knowing that there’s this event to bring us together. So they’re always there doing their thing, so they bring the family together.

Weekend barbecues is a very popular American tradition, and it’s interesting to see how cultures blend together when an Ecuadorian family participates in the culture. It shows the “melting pot” nature of the United States–the blend of Sunday barbecues with carne asada, guacamole, and salsa. It also shows there is a universality of the mother’s multiple roles in taking care of her family.

Rompe La Pinata Song


Quien rompe la piñata yooooooooo
que la rompa felipe nooooooo
que la rompa isaito nooooooo
que la rompa julito noooooooooooooooo
que la rompa jaimito siiiiiii

mamita mamita yo quiero llorar
si no me dan un oalo pa romper la piñata
mamita mamita vendame los ojos
que yo quiero ser quien rompa la piñata

damela dale a la piñata
rompela rompe la piñata (4 veces)

Informant is a 39 year-old Ecuadorian male. He used to live in Ecuador, and has moved to the United States with his family.

Informant: In Ecuador, as far back as I can remember, they used to play this song for me and for the kids in the family now. They always play this song on the speakers at children’s birthday parties, when they break the pinata or when they do the cake.

Collector: Why do you think they play this song?

Informant: The song is very fun, and happy. It’s very encouraging to the kids, specifically it says to break the pinata. It’s specifically for the pinata, but it doesn’t have to be.

Collector: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: It wasn’t that I learned it, I just remember that it was always played. I would go to family functions, and for kids it was always playing.

Collector: What does this song mean to you?

Informant: I think a lot of it is not just tradition, but it also has a sense of nostalgia, or a rite of passage.

Collector: What ethnicity is the song for?

Informant: It’s mainly for people of Spanish descent, because the song lyrics are in Spanish.

I think that this song is like similar to the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in America. It’s upbeat nature and happy lyrics calls for celebration. The lyrics of the song reflect the activity it’s intended for: breaking the pinata. So, the song is also reflective of the traditions performed at Hispanic birthday parties.

Ane Viejo Celebration in Ecuador

Tradition: For New Year’s Eve in Ecuador, people celebrate Ane Viejo by crafting life size dolls of people with straw. They fill the people with fireworks and light them on New Year’s Eve in remembrance of the old year.

The informant is a 39 year old male from Ecuador.

Informant: There’s this tradition that we do in Ecuador, and it’s called Ane Viejo. And it’s usually done during the New Year. You know how everyone has this thing where everyone toasts to the New Year? But in Ecuador we do this toast to the old year. And you can choose any person that you want, and you make the person out of clothes, and straw, and stuff–so you make a straw person. It could be of anyone that you want, and it usually has some significance to something that’s in the past–whether it’s something bad or something good–it doesn’t really matter. They call it your Ane Viejo, like “your last year.” Once you make this straw person, they put fireworks inside of them. And they light it on fire on New Years’ Eve.

Collector: How big is this person?

Informant: Like normal size, like a real person! They put like clothes and jeans on them. Most people don’t burn the clothes, but they’ll leave them out for a week before New Year. So if you walk around town, you’ll see them on people’s front porches, they’ll be sitting down.

Collector: Who makes these dolls?

Informant: The whole town makes them. They’re usually people made–like your family makes them. What makes them even cooler is that there’s a competition, like who can make the coolest one. They’ll put like sunglasses and a hat on them.

Collector: Why do you think people keep performing this tradition?

Informant: I think they do this as something fun at the end of the year as a end of the year remembrance of your past. It’s like a whole ceremony prior to lighting your fireworks. I don’t know where it started, but I just know that that’s what they do.

Collector: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: When I was a kid, I just saw it on the streets.

Collector: What does it mean to you when you see it?

Informant: For me, when I see it, it reminds me of my childhood, my family, because that’s how I learned it and how I was introduced to it. Because I left my country, and the first time I came back I was like 8, 10 years old, and I experienced it. But everyone lived with it. So when I see it, it reminds me of that time.

I think that cultures such as the United States celebrates the New Year by making toasts to the New Year because we are a future oriented culture. We focus more on welcoming the new opportunities in the coming future. From this tradition, it seems that the culture of Ecuador also reflects on the past in addition to the welcoming the New Year.

Ecuadorian Slang

Estrampandose, which I just learned from my mother, is an um Ecuadorian term that I heard my family say before. It has two meanings, either like it’s like you’re falling apart and you’re like collapsed. Like, you fall and you collapse, and it’s like, ‘Se estrampó.’ She like almost died when she fell, type thing. What I do all the time. Or it can mean, like, hardcore making out, like, to the point that it hurts. So, it depends on the context, but that’s a word. Estrampandose.”

It seems this word is similar to the English slang of “She ate it,” which people use in reference to someone falling. As in, “She ate the floor.” But the second meaning is what’s very interesting. When you take the word estrampandose, it sounds like the Spanish word trampar, which means “to step.” So how does this connect at all to making out? It totally makes sense in the case of falling because when you fall, sometimes it’s because of a misstep. In the context of the  making out, it seems the word has totally been turned into slang.

But also, why wouldn’t Ecuadorians just use the regular word for falling? To fall, in Spanish, is caer. I guess it’s because estrampandose has more flair to it? Like the source said, they use it to describe a nasty fall, not just any fall. It’s applied in situations like she described, when someone basically almost dies from how hard they fell. Of course, that was probably an exaggeration, but estrampandose captures the exaggeration better than caer does. The word is far more grandiose, which I guess might be why it developed in the first place. The people felt they needed a bigger word to describe falling, so they came up with that. And then, somewhere along the line, it also came to describe making out. Curious evolution, indeed.

Burning the Past Year

“So, in Ecuador, around New Year’s Eve, around the holidays really, we have this tradition of burning el año viejo. And what that is is that artists from around the country will each work on, uhhh, these piñata-type things, uhh, and they’ll be different characters, and the characters will range from Kung Fu Panda, Bugs Bunny to Donald Trump, Obama, uhh, like political figures to cartoon characters like they cover the whole spectrum,and their life-size and little and and they cost, they cost money to get these. And inside they have explosives. Umm… *laughs* And on New Year’s Eve, ummm, what everyone will do was, is that you’ll gather around el año viejo, umm, and at midnight you burn it, uhh, so you light a match and the thing will go off. Umm, and it’s supposed to be like quemando like burning all of your grievances from the past year and like starting anew from like the ashes. So that’s what we do. It’s fun.”

Burning el año viejo or burning the old year is a tradition that I’ve heard of in another societies, as well. In Cuba, for example, people will make effigies out of straw that represent the past year, and they will burn them on New Year’s Eve. Ecuador seems to take it a step further, though, by bringing in artists to make special effigies. It seems the burning has become less rigid in their culture, since they’re burning even cartoon characters or whatnot. The symbolism has been lost. It sounds more like a celebration, something to do out of habit, than something that’s supposed to be symbolic. In fact, it almost seems like a joke, especially if they’re burning effigies in the shape of political figures such as Trump or Obama.

Yet nonetheless, the source acknowledges the sense of burning away “grievances” and whatnot. So while the tradition may not look the same as it maybe did in the past, it still holds the same meaning. It reminds me of the phoenix when it bursts into flames and is born again from the ashes. Perhaps it has some kind of connection to there.

“Te Dan La Mano Y Se Cojen Del Codo”


“Te dan la mano y se cojen del codo”

Literal Translation: You give them your hand and they take your elbow.

Translation: When you extend your hand, they grab for your elbow.

My informant explained that her dad used to say this phrase all the time, as a warning about other people.  Her father had told her that with some people, you have to be cautious because they will try to take advantage of you.  The expression basically means that when you offer kindness or generosity, be careful because others may manipulate or abuse your benevolence.

The Spanish phrase echoes the American children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” or the expression “when you give someone an inch, they take a mile.”  Once you start offering, the demands start building.  I asked if she had heard of this book or saying and she replied: “Oh yes, it’s exactly like that.”  So just remember, a small little offering can create a snowball effect and you’ll end up dealing with much more than you bargained for.

Be Careful of the “Mal Aire”

My informant, who is from Ibarra, Ecuador, was told as a young girl:

“¡No te hagas de noche o so no te va a dar el mal aire!”

 Translation: “Don’t stay outside too late at night, or you will get ‘bad air!’”

She explained that mal aire, or bad air, is something that you catch from being outside in the trees, but is not quite a sickness.  She says, “You feel back pain, but it’s not like regular back pain… You just feel weird, like something is not right.”  I felt that way once when I was little and spent too much time outside with my friends.

She was told when she was younger that her uncle caught mal aire while walking through the mountains to her aunt’s house.  The only way to get rid of it is to place a small candle (like a tea candle) on a person’s back and cover it with a glass cup.  If the skin “inflates” and looks like a lump in the glass, it first confirms that you have mal aire and also rids it from the body.

Yet, the threat of mal aire could just be a way to scare children not to stray too far from home, not stay out too late and stay away from trouble.  Additionally, the method of testing and purifying oneself only reinforces the fear of mal aire in children.  For anyone who tries it, when you cover a candle with a glass, it will create a vacuum and as a result, will raise the skin.  By telling children that it this happens only to people who have mal aire, adults can easily prove and scare children with this technique.  To further prove that it will happen to everyone, the mal aire “candle treatment” is similar to an ancient Chinese practice, called “massage cupping.”  For those who use this technique, cupping produces a deep, therapeutic state of relaxation.  This type of “massage” will likely remove the back pain my informant mentioned as well.

El Año Viejo (Ecuador)

In Ecuador, la fiesta de Año Viejo (literally, “the old year festival”) is a long-standing tradition that symbolically incinerates the regrets, failures and anger of the past year to usher in the resolutions, hopes and expectations for the new year.  On the 31st of December, men fill the streets dressed as women during the day, and at night, effigies are ritually burned to ashes.

When living in her hometown of Ibarra (50 miles outside Quito, the capital), my informant celebrated this tradition every year with her friends and family.  As she explains the tradition, she smiles and laughs, recalling the silliness of the festivities.  She recalls how young men, wearing women’s clothes and makeup, block the city streets and demand small payments of money from passersby.  Only then can you pass and go on your way.  She explains that the men collect money to pay for alcohol, “para emborrarcharse” (to get drunk) later that night.

However, about five days earlier, preparations for the celebration begin with crafting life-sized dolls, or los años viejos, made of clothes and paper.  The effigy might represent a disliked celebrity or political figure, or even a representation of past mistakes or unachieved goals.  Sometimes a handwritten note is attached to the doll that explains why it must be burned.  My informant says that effigies are still made of Abdalá “El Loco” Bucaram, a corrupt president who served during the 1990s and was later overthrown for stealing money.  Yet, she also explains that nowadays, the años viejos can take the form of popular culture figures like SpongeBob Squarepants or Marvel comic superheroes.

Again, she laughs as she recalls her uncle’s custom.  Every year, her uncle makes an año viejo of himself and attaches a note that sounds like a last will and testament.  Instead of a somber undertone, he leaves funny and sarcastic notes to his family members.  For example, one year he wrote….

As the clock nears midnight, people set fire to their años viejos outside their houses, in the streets or even on the beach.  To give it even more New Year’s flare, firecrackers are often thrown into the fire.  My informant says that this is one of her favorite holidays, but since she has moved to the U.S., the tradition of años viejos has slightly changed.  Instead of setting fire to the año viejo, she and her family ceremonially throw the effigy in the trash.

When analyzing the celebration of Año Viejo, the liminality of New Year’s Eve instigates a transformation of identities and superstition.  Because December 31st brings the past year to a close, but is not quite a new year, this liminal phase inverts social roles and men behave uncharacteristically by dressing up and acting like women.  Yet, the años viejos can be perceived as a form of superstition or imitative magic.  They symbolize past mistakes or the character of disliked public figures, and the ritual burning of the effigies signifies their eradication, to ensure they don’t return in the new year.  The tradition is also superstitious because it is an active performance that attempts to produce good luck and a “clean slate.”

The types of años viejos that are crafted today illustrate the history and evolution of the holiday.  The history of Años Viejo is unclear, but my informant says that it may have been started because of a yellow fever epidemic that affected the country years ago and many bodies were burned as a result.  Similar to how yellow fever was rid from the country through pyres, the años viejos represent misfortunes or undesired characteristics and are also erased in the flames of a fire.  The yellow fever influence may be the reason why many años viejos take the form of a human.   Furthermore, while años viejos of disliked politicians are still used, the introduction of creating popular culture characters may indicate a change in the political environment of Ecuador.  My informant told me that the president in office today is well liked and the Ecuadorian government is no longer corrupt.  Therefore, años viejos appear to adapt to contemporary issues, trends and most of all, humor.  “Ecuador is a very relaxed country” and locals appear to reflect the stress-free atmosphere through the use of humor in Año Viejo celebrations.

So let’s set the Año Viejo ablaze and welcome the new!