Global IssuesSouth America

Being a White Woman in Ecuador Made Me See My Privilege, but It Also Brought Prejudice

privilege travel

Settling in Ecuador was never a part of my plan. I wanted to live somewhere in Latin America, sure, but Ecuador never even made it to the list of possibilities. When I stopped in Ecuador on my way to Peru, though, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The people welcomed me home and the culture sucked me in.

Within a few months, I had a steady job, a group of friends, an Ecuadorian boyfriend, and a pretty decent second language all tucked under my belt. And just like that, Guayaquil, Ecuador became my new home.

Though I was completely unaware of my privilege at the time, it quickly became obvious to me that my skin color was the primary drive behind everything that happened to me in the months that followed.

Being a White woman certainly had its unearned privileges that helped me along the way. But it also came with a few, equally unearned, drawbacks. Being a young, White, single woman in this Latin American country made me acutely aware of how systemic racism and stereotyping was indeed a factor in both my successes and failures.

On making friends.

First came the friends. Everywhere I went it seemed as if people were eager to be my friend. People were kind to me for no reason other than because they wished to be. I had never done anything in particular to gain friends, they just sort of showed up.

Friends showed me the bus lines and helped me apply for my residency visa. They let me sleep in their homes and they invited me out wherever they went.

It wasn’t just their unending hospitality, though. It was an eery sense that everywhere I went there were people eager to hand me their phone numbers and show me around.

Finally, I asked my trusted Ecuadorian friend if everyone was truly that nice all the time.

“Oh, no,” she said, letting out a bitter laugh. “It’s just because you’re the gringa in town. Everybody wants a gringa friend.” She continued playing with her phone, never breaking her gaze to glance my way.

I stared at her, dejected.

“But why?” I asked. “What have I done that gives them those things?” I pressed her for answers where I knew there were none. She set down her phone and turned toward me.

“Because you’re like the exotic zoo animal that everybody wants a picture with,” she told me. “People want to be seen with you, not because they want to be your friend but because they want to show their friends that they are hanging out with an American. Guys want to date you not because they actually like you, but because White girls are rumored to be easy and just by being seen with you, he will look like he’s getting laid.”

Though her explanation was a bit simplified and even had a touch of bitterness, she was onto something. My fair skin and light hair meant that people trusted me and were even eager to help me.

I could easily chalk this up to the incredibly warm and friendly culture of Ecuador (which, by the way, it is).

The truth is, though, that this trend rings true back home, too. I’ve never been denied help when I’ve asked for it and I’ve never been suspected of making a dirty deal. While I definitely have a friendly side to me that has helped me make and keep friends, I could see then that being a White woman had helped me further along than my charming smile, alone.

On finding a job, and an apartment.

A few months later, I began searching for a job. I sent out a few applications and within 24 hours I had three full-time job offers. It was by far the easiest application process I had ever experienced.

Essentially the only thing I had done was mention that I was from the US and that I was also, coincidentally, looking for a job. Before reviewing any kind of resume, my education, or even my visa, I had been whole-heartedly welcomed into these positions.

I called my friend, once again, to share the news. She kindly congratulated me and then we quickly got to talking about the credibility of the companies that had just hired a complete stranger with virtually no vetting process.

Once again, the topic of my Whiteness came up. Simply by being a White, single woman they had believed me when I told them that I deserved the job. They believed me when I assured them of my degrees and that I was legally in the country.

None of this necessarily had to be true, but it didn’t really matter. What they saw when they saw my skin was that I was good enough just because I could stand on my own two feet. Warranted or not, they opened up opportunities for me that had very little to do with my actual qualifications.

In fact, finding an apartment proved to be just as easy. The landlord required nothing but a copy of my passport, assuring me that he trusted that I had the funds to pay rent each month. It didn’t matter that, truthfully, at the time of signing the lease I had less than $1,000 USD in my bank account and no job, yet.

My American passport and white skin granted me many opportunities because my Whiteness equated wealth and reliability, when I offered, in fact, neither of those things.

On being easy.

A few months after that, and well into my monogamous and steady romantic relationship, my Whiteness garnered some attention, once again. Rumors in my little town had spread that I was sleeping around.

The very idea that I would know enough people to be the subject of rumors seemed ridiculous to me. Add to that the fact that I didn’t even know enough men to have the luxury of sleeping “around.”

Yet, the rumors persisted.

The same rumors seemed to swirl everywhere I went, too. A weekend at the beach, spent with my girlfriend, turned into the chisme that fueled the rumors among my beach friends.

Even now, in my current post as a bartender in a small mountain village far from any debauchery in the entire country, men take my polite smile as a cue that perhaps I owe them a sexual favor.

In a weird clash of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a White woman here in Ecuador, it is assumed that I am loose in my morals and indebted to the men around me.

Torn that such rumors could exist about me, I asked a few other White extranjeras I had met along the way if they had the same problem. Though I felt as if I were grasping in the dark for some kind of explanation, they all confirmed my suspicions. Like me, each of them had been the topic of gossip for the better part of their time here in Ecuador. The gossip almost always had to do with their promiscuity, whether it was true or not.

Just like the color of my skin opened unearned opportunities for me, it also made me the subject of nasty gossip that was equally unearned. This lesson wasn’t lost on me, though. Perhaps being the victim of a stereotype proved to be the most eye-opening lesson of all.

On being White and also a woman.

Every day I watch as the culture around me struggles with its perception of my identity. It seems as if Ecuador is unsure whether to offer me the world on account of my Whiteness, or to throw disrespectful power moves at me on account of being a woman.

Being cornered in a bar by a drunk man simply because he is intrigued by my fair skin, tall stature, and the vagina he presumes to be between my legs is a dark reality. At the same time, benefitting from unearned privilege for those very same attributes is an unfair advantage I likely have all over the world.

So what can a White girl do?

As the old adage goes, awareness is the first step.

I won’t pretend that this stereotype doesn’t unnerve me, for both the good and bad that has come of it. I also won’t pretend, though, that I’m a sort of victim of it all, undeserving of the good that Ecuador has brought, as well as maybe some of the bad.

The problem is that I have lived nearly my entire life benefitting from many of these stereotypes without so much as batting an eye. Nobody has ever questioned my motive or wondered if I was capable of achieving something. Only here in Ecuador did it become painfully obvious to me how these stereotypes existed.

While White Guilt doesn’t necessarily help level the playing field among all of us, awareness can certainly help us head in the right direction.

As for my personal awareness, the beautiful and robust country of Ecuador has certainly gotten me there.


What’s been your experience with privilege and prejudice while traveling? Share in the comments!

Marquis Matson
Hi, I'm Marquis! After earning my degrees and working the 9-5 grind for a few years I found that I was fully unhappy with the path that I was on. Being overly curious about everything around me, I decided to quit my job and travel around Central and South America. I was searching for a city or country that I liked enough to call home, and after a year I found it here in Ecuador. I have lived in Ecuador for a year, now, and work as a freelance writer. I sometimes miss having disposable income but mostly this has been the best decision of my life! It has not been easy, and a lot of times it has been pretty terrifying, but has been worth every part of it.

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16 Comments

  1. Great read! I have traveled in Central America and South America quite a bit and have had similar experiences. It sounds exciting to quit the 9-5 and it sounds like you are very much so embracing it!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! It’s a tough task to be able to recognize these things and also make it clear that these countries are absolutely beautiful and full of warm, loving people. But, since I’ve been here for a couple years now I guess it seems obvious that I love it 😉 And yes, so exciting to not work the 9-5 grind anymore!!

  2. I’m a black man so as you know there’s prejudice against me in almost every country. But when i traveled to Mexico last month i experienced none at all. But you being white gets you everything in America as whites here hate blacks and love they own. But you should be use to the being easy part here in the u.s. blonde hair women thing but even to black men white women are seen as easy and love oral sex but also distrust as blacks can’t trust most whites because of race relations.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yes, it is certainly an issue no matter where you go in the world. I noticed the same thing here in Ecuador, that being black had really no negative connotations attached to it like it does in the US. And of course, things have always come so easily for me but I didn’t realize it until I was here. Now I can understand more clearly how this contributes to high tensions back home. I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed your vacation in Mexico! Hopefully, we can get some things to shift directions back in the US, too.

      1. As an Ecuadorian I am sorry to tell you this but hére in my country many people still hold some. Racist views specially toward Black. Yeah its not the majority but it still happens and yeah its tru that sometimes White People (both Ecuadorian and foreigners) get special treatment but not always and is. Not so good for other reason.

  3. I like what you write I live in Ecuador and I think you are right about what is happening, I am doing a project about racism isn Ecuador and I will love to know more about your personal experience.

    1. Hey Marina!

      Thanks for reading 🙂 Yes, that seems like a great idea to collaborate! Where can I message you?

  4. Your beautiful and would be treated as a Queen anywhere in the world.

    1. Wow, such kind words! I appreciate your candor 🙂 I suppose that I can certainly attribute some of the interactions I’ve had to my appearance, though I don’t want that idea to detract from the greater message here. It seems that privilege is a multi-layered and very complex issue!

  5. I ready your blog post here with interest, not only for your observations on “Whiteness,” but for another reason as well. I’m an American who speaks only limited Spanish. I try…boy do I ever….and I know some basics, but language acquisition is probably not my strong suit. I haven’t let this stop me from making 4 trip to (non-touristy spots) in Mexico and 5 trips to Costa Rica. However, I always feel I am missing out on a deeper connection with the people and culture because I can’t speak the language well. I’d like to visit Ecuador and can get a fairly cheap flight from my home in Florida to Quito and then on to other cities I want to visit. However, I’m debating if my lack of Spanish makes it worth it. to continue visiting Central/South America. I saw you were able to make some friends, find a job, etc. How’d you do that? What’s your level of Spanish proficiency?

  6. I am Ecuadorian and I have fair (White) skin there are not many White People in Ecuador but Is true that the small population With that characterístic has some sort. Of specially treatment, If you want to use that expression . People Will often see you as the one Who has the more money. Or the the boss in a office. They Will just asume that you are on a good economic situación. I cannot deny that. If you Lived hére you should had noticed that for a small share of the population Whites are very common on TV and in the business field so thats why you got so much atention hére. It os not your fault but the way Ecuadorian society was formes since colonial times. Now this view also has a bad side. If you are White and go to a not so safe zone you will get robbed more easy, you will be more lily to suffer from many crines due to the assumptions People made about you. It is truth, is not all just good hére because you are White and all the things that happenned to you are not uncommon even If you are Ecuadorian With that characterístic (being White)

  7. Greetings; Im 64 year white male. I now live in TX. I teach at a nursing school here. I have considered relocating to Ecuador /Peru/Chile and also get employment in teaching. I have heard that some professional schools are now also teaching in English. On the subject of the article, I am single,and I find the tan/brown skin people very attractive. Im not sure how old this article is etc. but, let me know your thoughts and any advise you may have. Thank You Rw rswittmann@yahoo.com

  8. It isn’t “white privilege” . It is the reputation of whites that granted your experiences in Ecuador, good and bad.

  9. This is a great read. First of all, because I’m fairly sure you’re being honest. But mostly, you unwittingly demonstrate that leftist (Marxist) think-tank fabricated buzz-words like “privilege” and “systemic racism” mean NOTHING. Here you are in a country which has no relationship to these buzz-words, and yet you had a HUMAN experience over which these buzz-words had no power or influence. You would have us believe that prejudice and stereotyping are somehow “Systemic” of the Capitalistic Constitutional Republic of the USA. But you found out otherwise, didn’t you? It’s a HUMAN issue… it’s not “systemic”.
    Leftists have to come to terms with the indelible fact that in nature, the lions hang out with the lions, and the elephants hang out with the elephants. And although there are many leftists who are stupid enough to refer to demonstrable expressions of the universe as being “racist” and “hateful”, another fact they resist is that THEY AREN’T GOING TO CHANGE ANYTHING. Some things are NOT malleable. There is noting inherently “hateful” or “racist” about nature. The best you can do is offer integrity, honesty and reason to your fellow man and hope that you can form a peaceful relationship with him. But one thing for sure, concentrating on divisive buzz-words will only foster division, and encourage people to ignore universal law in favor of some leftist Utopia which does not exist and will never exist, in that leftists themselves cannot even define what that Utopia is, nor are they able to answer any of the primary questions pertaining to it’s many inherent and grave fundamental problems.
    In short, just tell us the story, and leave the leftist buzz-words out of it… they don’t help.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  10. Thank you for your candidness. Your article caught my interest because I have read retiring in Guatemala has many advantages, but no mention of single retirees. I’m sure elder, uh seasoned individuals like myself would find a different lifestyle than yours, but Ecuadorians seem to be gentle, caring people. Years ago I lived in the Dominican Republic and so enjoyed being involved teaching and working with those simpatico people.

  11. Hi Im well sorry for the treatment they gave you here in my home country, but if you are white in Ecuador actually living here it will get you far if you know the right people, if you indiscriminately go out with everyone and think that wearing jeans and sneakers is just fine, you wrong, unless you are enjoying a day at the beach, if you indiscriminately go out without much care for your good looks and the people you hang out with, you will find the drunk rockers and hip hoppers amongst others who are very amicable but they will look to get you drunk and rape you, drug you and rape you, or steal things getting you drugged or not and leave you in the side of the road stolen, remember rockers and hip hoppers they are known to be the druggies of the city a reality that clearly exist, if you think only white people listen to rock in Ecuador you are wrong, just indigenous people listens to this type of music Ecuador not saying that all indigenous people are bad NO NOT at all, Otavalo for example where indigenous people wear the classic dress their cultural dress that came from their origins are good people and wont damage you, and the same applies to the Amazon part of Ecuador, people who have lost their cultural values are recognisable by how they dress, if they are modern with jeans and sneakers are not good, for in the Amazon they wear feathers, the type of indigenous people i’m referring to are those who have lost their cultural value, most living in crowded cities or civilized towns, they will be seen wearing jeans sneakers and down, of course with their rock bracelets and jackets, or baggy pants in the case of hip hopers, if you hang out with indigenous people that have lost their cultural values you will be seen as the lowest type of people in Ecuador just because you accept just about anyone as friends, and because you hang out with the wrong crowd in Ecuador they wont give you a chance to hang out with better people, the good people, the ones that wont rape you or steal from you, and actually show you a good time without damaging you, people well dressed meaning casual dressing and up from Ecuador will probably listen to pop, reggaeton, and electronic music, so just to clear out if you are with the better crowd you will get opportunities even for being a tv star, etc, if you speak a good and decent amount of Spanish just because you gringa, if you think that being nice to everyone is okay deeply in Ecuador is not the situation, everyone is amicable with gringas here but is up to you to choose the crowd you hang out with here, you say that lots of people get pregnant and not even want the baby, well you know where to find them, also in the poorest places remember SUBURBS HERE IN ECUADOR IS NOT LIKE IN THE STATES, IN THE STATES SUBURBS MEANS HIGH CLASS AND BETTER LIVING, HERE IN ECUADOR SUBURBS MEANS WHERE PEOPLE VERY POOR LIVES, ALSO VERY DANGEROUS, WHERE GANGS WILL LIVE AS WELL, in Quito for example the South is known to be a bad area, and at the coast suburbs are bad, not meaning that just because the people i’m describing fall in this category, many people gets raped everywhere in the world so be careful, if you find a casual dresser being too drunk probably will get you raped as well for most likely this person is in drugs, so try to hang out in better places with better people, if you think in PLAZA FOCH every gringo hangs out and is good for parties well so-so, plaza foch used to be for the better crowd but now sadly goes just about everyone indiscriminately to hang out including rockers hip hoppers and the lowest crowd, you will even find truck drivers there, now a better place for plaza foch is CUMBAYA CENTRO NOT PLAZA FOCH ANYMORE, or PLAZA DE LAS AMERICAS KNOWN AS CINEMARK in Quito, it is more expensive but is far safer, place done with the view that the lower crowd wont access to, as it is far from the reach of rockers and hip hoppers who are poor people and most likely wont have the money to pay for their fares to go there, if you were lucky enough for them not to rape you or steal from you, they will most likely be living from you so meaning you maintain the crowd, which also to hang out tend to live out of your pocket so you will find guys and girls from this crowd telling you amiga eres la mejor (friend you are the best) for giving them free beer all night long, differences you should know before you go, remember better crowd will invite you equally for drinks so it is a good idea to know a bit of Spanish, like so it does not differ as much from the beach if you go with the surfers, or surfer teachers for example they will show you a good time but they will expect to basically live from you and it starts by asking you to go out with them in which situation they will most likely tell ya I DONT HAVE MONEY PAY FOR IT MI GATITA (my kitten)PLEASE with their cutest face for remember is twisted but they take pride of you in every situation, which in most times ends with you paying for their rent until you come back, Ecuadorian men are sometimes beautiful but they practice polygamy a lot, so if you found a good guy from the better crowd is wise to ask if they are married, and in this case if you dressed nice they will probably leave their current wife for you not matter if they have 5 or 6 kids, for you are their pride meaning they will show you off to everyone and that is the point, if you wear sneakers and down most likely also take you as a trophy but just a one night time sex trophy only, but clearly if you are gringa people will be proud to have you around, and i am referring to white gringas not to black or etc ethnicities from the USA, as to wearing condoms or contraception and Ecuadorian man will love to have a gringo baby, so if this happened to you is probably because you are white, because people here we middle class and up will wear condoms, contraception, and implants, why because we don’t want to have babies for they are expensive, unless is with a boyfriend that we love, so if you are a WHITE GRINGA IN ECUADOR they will purposely will try to get you pregnant so if you are looking for a good time make sure you don’t have babies unless you found yourself a better crowd boyfriend which happens to be single with no kids, then if you live here with him you will be cherished and you will be showed off to everyone every chance they have for the rest of their lives, SORRY BLACK FRIENDS DOES NOT APPLY TO YOU AND NOT MY FAULT IS MY SOCIETY, said that i leave you with a better guide to realistically live in Ecuador as a happy person. GOOD LUCK I LOVE YA

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