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Begging as a Path to Progress

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

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Begging as a Path to Progress
    Book Description:

    In 1992, Calhuasí, an isolated Andean town, got its first road. Newly connected to Ecuador's large cities, Calhuasí experienced rapid social-spatial change, which Kate Swanson richly describes in Begging as a Path to Progress. Based on nineteen months of fieldwork, Swanson's study pays particular attention to the ideas and practices surrounding youth. While begging seems to be inconsistent with-or even an affront to-ideas about childhood in the developed world, Swanson demonstrates that the majority of income earned from begging goes toward funding Ecuadorian children's educations in hopes of securing more prosperous futures. Examining beggars' organized migration networks, as well as the degree to which children can express agency and fulfill personal ambitions through begging, Swanson argues that Calhuasí's beggars are capable of canny engagement with the forces of change. She also shows how frequent movement between rural and urban Ecuador has altered both, masculinizing the countryside and complicating the Ecuadorian conflation of whiteness and cities. Finally, her study unpacks ongoing conflicts over programs to "clean up" Quito and other major cities, noting that revanchist efforts have had multiple effects-spurring more dangerous transnational migration, for example, while also providing some women and children with tourist-friendly local spaces in which to sell a notion of Andean authenticity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3703-6
    Subjects: Population Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Unraveling Myths
    (pp. 1-11)

    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).¹ 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....

  6. CHAPTER ONE Ecuador: Economic Crisis, Poverty, and Indigenous Identities
    (pp. 12-28)

    In recent decades Ecuador has experienced vast change, along with an accelerated integration into the global economy. During this time the nation has been characterized by political instability, high income inequality, poverty, and massive debt. Between 1997 and 2007, seven presidents held office—three of whom were overthrown. Meanwhile, gaps between the rich and poor were among the highest in the world (Lind 2005). At the turn of the millennium, close to 60 percent of Ecuadorians lived in poverty, while this figure rose to almost 90 percent among indigenous peoples (SIISE 2003c). An astonishing nine out of ten indigenous Ecuadorians...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Indigenous Childhoods: Gender, Work, Education, and Migration in the Andes
    (pp. 29-49)

    Conditions are changing for indigenous children in Ecuador, particularly for young people in Calhuasí. These changes are being brought about for several reasons, but one of the more significant is the reconceptualization of local understandings of childhood. It is now widely recognized that constructions of childhood are socially, culturally, and historically specific (Aitken 2001; Ariès 1962; James and Prout 1997; Holloway and Valentine 2000). Yet in recent years the modern Western construction of childhood has infiltrated Ecuador’s indigenous communities through education, media, and rural-to-urban migration. The result is that local understandings are being displaced in favor of this new modern...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Migrant Childhoods: Street Work and Youth Identities
    (pp. 50-73)

    When young Calhuaseños migrate to the city, they do so because they have few other options. Begging and selling are a means to improve their circumstances in the hopes of attaining more prosperous futures. However, in the city, conditions are difficult, as youth must contend with racism, social exclusion, and a reality that is vastly different from their previous experiences. Among urbanites, little is known about Calhuasí’s young people; however, their brightly colored clothing and occupation of prime street space make the youth very visible in the city. Many myths circulate surrounding their lives, yet few organizations in the city...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Antibegging Rhetoric: Gendered Beggars, Child Beggars, and “Disguised” Beggars
    (pp. 74-91)

    Life in the city is challenging for women and children from Calhuasí. Their difficulties are compounded by media portrayals and popular misconceptions that unfairly misrepresent their life circumstances. In this chapter I explore how rhetoric pertaining to indigenous beggars informs policy and practice to exclude indigenous women and children from the streets. I focus particularly on the rhetoric being produced and reproduced by urban planners, social workers, religious leaders, and the media. Within these groups, indigenous women and children are regularly described in terms of child exploitation and delinquency, false manipulation of public sympathies, ignorance, laziness, and filth. They are...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Race, Space, and the City: Whitening the Streets of Quito and Guayaquil
    (pp. 92-110)

    On top of the harassment indigenous women and children receive on the streets, their livelihoods are increasingly under threat from punitive urban policies designed to cleanse the streets of undesirables. Under the guise of revitalization or renewal, cities around the world are reshaping urban spaces to revive city centers and attract global capital. While the language of renewal may seem celebratory, it is triumphant only for some. In a world where image is everything, the dark side of renewal is that it effectively erases or, rather, annihilates urban spaces for itinerant street vendors, beggars, street youth, and the homeless (Mitchell...

  11. Conclusion: Begging as a Path to Progress
    (pp. 111-118)

    Shortly before leaving Ecuador in 2003, I was sitting in my kitchen with a fourteen-year-old girl named Malena, when she posed a difficult and troubling question. We were looking at pictures and chatting about the community when she said to me, “We work like donkeys but we don’t make any money.” Then she looked at me inquisitively and asked, “Why do other people have so much money?” I must admit that I struggled to answer Malena’s question; my immediate response was to pull out a map and a magazine and begin pointing at pictures in an attempt to illustrate the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 119-122)
    (pp. 123-136)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 137-146)