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From Cuenca to Queens

An Anthropological Story of Transnational Migration

By Ann Miles

Publication Year: 2004

Transnational migration is a controversial and much-discussed issue in both the popular media and the social sciences, but at its heart migration is about individual people making the difficult choice to leave their families and communities in hopes of achieving greater economic prosperity. Vicente Quitasaca is one of these people. In 1995 he left his home in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca to live and work in New York City. This anthropological story of Vicente’s migration and its effects on his life and the lives of his parents and siblings adds a crucial human dimension to statistics about immigration and the macro impact of transnational migration on the global economy. Anthropologist Ann Miles has known the Quitasacas since 1989. Her long acquaintance with the family allows her to delve deeply into the factors that eventually impelled the oldest son to make the difficult and dangerous journey to the United States as an undocumented migrant. Focusing on each family member in turn, Miles explores their varying perceptions of social inequality and racism in Ecuador and their reactions to Vicente’s migration. As family members speak about Vicente’s new, hard-to-imagine life in America, they reveal how transnational migration becomes a symbol of failure, hope, resignation, and promise for poor people in struggling economies. Miles frames this fascinating family biography with an analysis of the historical and structural conditions that encourage transnational migration, so that the Quitasacas’ story becomes a vivid firsthand illustration of this growing global phenomenon.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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p. vii


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p. x

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pp. xi-xiii

I met the Quitasacas in 1989, a time when we all seemed, at least to me, a good deal more innocent and naive. I was new to Ecuador and to doing fieldwork, and they were a young family just trying to makeit in the big city. We all had such high hopes for the future. Over the years we have faced the joys and hardships that come with being human...

Time Line of Important Events

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p. xv

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1. From Cuenca to Queens: Transnational Lives

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pp. 1-10

It had been a beautiful summer day in New York, so we decided to take one last picture outside in the sunshine. The photo was surely going to be sent to the family in Ecuador, so Vicente suggested that we pose in front of his new car. In the photograph Vicente is leaning against his car, looking relaxed and casual. He is wearing the Western Michigan University...

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2. Transnational Migration: Economies and Identities

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pp. 11-36

Nothing works out exactly as planned when doing fieldwork. In fact, if I had followed my original research proposal, I would have worked not in Cuenca but in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. Located on the coast, Guayaquil is a muggy, fast-paced, disorganized place with a large and growing population. My plan was to study the problems faced by...

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3. Family Matters

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pp. 37-56

There’s a story about the devil that Rosa likes to tell her children. In the story there are two poor sisters. One marries a local man who drinks too much and isn’t able to provide for his family. The other sister is unsympathetic to her sibling’s unfortunate situation and brags that she will do better by marrying a rich man—one with gold teeth. One day while...

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4. Rosa

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pp. 57-94

One of the first things I noticed about Rosa was how she laughed. She didn’t laugh loudly or with wild abandon but gently and shyly, with her eyes dancing and her whole face lighting up. In the course of many interviews with rural-to-urban migrant women in Guayaquil and Cuenca, I would regularly joke with the children to lighten the mood, which was...

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5. Lucho

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pp. 95-116

As I reviewed my notebooks and journals to write this chapter, it became very clear to me that my opinions of Lucho have vacillated considerably over the course of our twelve-year acquaintance. Indeed, during that first year I even wrote that knowing him was a lot like eating cuy(guinea pig)....

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6. The Children

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pp. 117-148

For two summers before I went to Ecuador in 1988 I worked in a day-carecenter on the Syracuse University campus. It was a great summer job. I spent much of the day outdoors, I had time to read anthropology during the children’s nap time, and I never took my work home. As it turned out, however, that job was more than an easy way to make money; it...

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7. Vicente

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pp. 149-180

Much of the Quitasacas’ concern about Vicente in the United States centers on whether he has changed in some fundamental way. They worry that he is no longer the person that he was when he lived at home and question whether he has been corrupted by money and fast times. I know why they are so concerned, because I too have very fond feelings for...

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8. Lives and Stories

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pp. 181-200

This book has been most concerned with telling the story of transnational migration as it is understood by one Ecuadorian family. Along the way I hope that I have given the reader some sense of the underlying dynamics that create not only the circumstances that make migration seemingly inevitable but also those that give life texture, nuance,...


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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-222


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pp. 223-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796669
E-ISBN-10: 0292796668
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292702059
Print-ISBN-10: 0292702051

Page Count: 247
Illustrations: 11 b&w illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 62239339
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From Cuenca to Queens

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ecuadorians -- Migrations.
  • Transnationalism -- Case studies.
  • Ecuadorian Americans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Ethnology -- Case studies.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Case studies.
  • Immigrants -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Ecuador -- Emigration and immigration -- Case studies.
  • Queens (New York, N.Y.) -- Social conditions.
  • Queens (New York, N.Y.) -- Biography.
  • Cuenca (Ecuador) -- Biography.
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