Bio-cultural Diversity and Social Justice Focus of Summer Course in Ecuador

April 25, 2013

In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of work supported by the LAII, a course is being offered for the month of July in Ecuador. Titled, "Ecuador: bio-cultural diversity social justice," the course offers credit in Spanish, Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media, Honors and Latin American Studies. The course is team taught by Spanish Professor Enrique Lamadrid, IFDM Director Miguel Gandert, and Honors Lecturer Michael Thomas. They also have several graduate assistants and senior teachers.

Ecuador is both one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world as well as one of the least developed in Latin America. "Its leaders and citizens are torn between the obligations to preserve nature and provide for human needs. The curse of oil has skewed its economy and ruined vast tracts of Amazonian forests, but a fascinating and innovative 'post-petroleum' era is dawning," Lamadrid said. The natural and cultural histories of Ecuador are deeply intertwined and illustrate the idea that biological and cultural diversity support and sustain each other.

The central research question for this field based, experiential program is an assessment of the Citizen's Revolution, its successes and challenges. How has the decolonizing paradigm shift from neo-liberalism, to sustainability, to bio-cultural diversity been implemented? The students will visit nine ecological zones and encounter numerous ethnic groups. They will stay with families and visit indigenous community-based tourism to gain an intimate view of Ecuadorean society. "One of the best windows into cultural memory is through popular fiestas, which recapitulate and reenact colonial histories and cultural processes right on the plaza," Lamadrid said.

Gandert added, "We will document the Fiesta of Santiago and its colorful battles of the Moros y Cristianos in the village of Gualaceo and the Fiesta of Santa Ana in Cuenca." Students will develop an understanding of bio-diversity in the neo-tropics, tropical climates and ecosystems, rainforest structure, how it functions, evolutionary patterns in the tropics, complexities of coevolution and ecology of fruit and the neo-tropical pharmacy.

Thomas said, "Through the lens of natural history, observation and documentation, students will compile a natural history atlas for each ecological area we visit, cooperating in the identification and photo documentation of ten plants, ten insects, ten invertebrates, and ten vertebrates in English and Spanish and indigenous languages, with Latin genus and species names as well."

Of the numerous ethnic and linguistic groups in Ecuador, the group will mostly be in contact with those from the southern highlands. Among them, the Quicha speaking Saraguros, Cholos - farmers, artisans and vendors who abandoned Quicha in favor of Spanish, but did not lose their identity or dress; the Cañaris, a group that has thrived in southern Ecuador since before the Inca invasion; and the Shuares, the largest Amazonian indigenous group in Ecuador.