The following article was published on Cuenca Highlife, which is an online publication featuring articles on an almost daily basis dealing with Cuenca, Cuencano culture, and Ecuadorian politics when it impacts the lives of people living in Cuenca. The publication is of high quality, published in English, and is a great resource for gringos who live in Cuenca and for those who consider visiting or moving to Cuenca.
One of today's articles is an excellent piece written by Gerard Alvarez, which provides insights in particular to those living abroad who are considering moving to Cuenca or its surrounding area in Azuay province. Here is the link for Cuenca Highlights, if you would like to bookmark it:
Cuenca and Azuay Province popular with Ecuadorians returning from the U.S. to build their dream homes
Admin | Published: August 13, 2013 02:55
By Gerard Alvarez
Patricio Matute is building his dream house in the Ecuadorian Andean
mountains near Cuenca, thanks in part to the 10 years he spent working
at a boat canvas factory in Ronkonkoma, New York. The two-story,
Swiss-chalet-style house will have a swimming pool, a soccer field and
an outdoor kitchen sheltered by a red tile roof. A trout stream runs in
front of the property.
Matute's home, 20 miles east of Cuenca, isn't even the most impressive
one that immigrants on Long Island are building in the area. Some look
like small hotels, rising four stories high next to the mud houses their
neighbors inhabit. Dozens of the big homes dot the Andean mountainsides
outside of Gualaceo, a town of 10,000 people.
Millions of immigrants from Ecuador and throughout Latin America have
headed to the United States and Europe in the last few decades in search
of the storied American dream. But for many, the dream will be realized
only when they return home to the houses they build with money earned
in the United States.
The area around Cuenca, including Gualaceo, is the most
popular region for returning Ecuadorians, according to real estate
experts. "Cuenca has always been magical for Ecuadorians," says Marco
Lopez, a real estate consultant in Quito. "Even those who are from other
parts of the country want to live in Cuenca. This holds true for
Ecuadorians living overseas too." Lopez says that 30% to 40% of real
estate sales in Azuay Province are to returning Ecuadorians. "They keep
the market very healthy."
Lopez adds that there's a misconception that North American and European
expats are a major driver of the local market. "They buy property but
are really marginal in the overall picture. Of course, the gringos like
to think they are having a major impact in the market but they really
The more luxurious homes feature large tinted windows, upper-floor
balconies and grand entrances flanked by pillars. Many are half-finished
and empty, waiting for their owners up north to earn enough to complete
them. Often, it takes years.
While not all the homes are mansions, they are still far better than what the average Ecuadorean can afford.
The money the immigrants send home also helps their families survive,
paying for food, clothes and schooling in a country where many workers
earn about $200 a month. Natives of Gualaceo send home an estimated $80
million a year, said Murillo, who is assisting Lucero's family.
Many of the migrants go to the United States illegally because visas are difficult to obtain.
Murillo said it is common for the estimated 1.5 million Ecuadorean
immigrants in the United States, including thousands on Long Island, to
eventually return home to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
"Everybody wants to go back to their roots, to their families," he said.
One reason is that their lives in places such as Patchogue often can be
dreary and summed up by one word: work. Commonly they will hold two
full-time jobs, starting work as early as 7 a.m. and finishing at
midnight or later.
"You work like a burro, but you return like a king," said Matute, 30. "You have your mansion waiting for you."
He said his house will cost about $120,000, including the property. He
still has to work in Ecuador to pay for it, and holds a few jobs
including selling bottled gas. He expects it to be complete in November.
Beyond their new houses, the immigrants return because they miss their
country, their culture, their family and friends. Back home, they feel,
their lives are richer.
Juan Pablo Jadan had a job as a waiter at upscale restaurants such as
Louis XVI in Patchogue and Tellers in Islip. But he recently returned to
Gualaceo after 20 years.
"I got very tired of the United States," Jadan, 38, said in Spanish. "Something in my heart told me to come home."
He said many of his friends had been on Long Island when their elderly
parents died in Ecuador, and he didn't want that to happen to him.
Murillo noted that not everything is perfect when the immigrants return
to Ecuador. Many find their savings quickly evaporate, and work
opportunities are sparse.
Some end up returning to the United States, Murillo said. "It's a cycle."
"The United States is like a maximum-security prison," Jadan said. He
said many Latinos feel isolated in the United States because of
discrimination. "Here in my country, we are in paradise."
Photo caption: A home built by returning Ecuadorians in Challuabamba, near Cuenca.