By Dusty Ray
Ecuador has seen a fair share of strife throughout its history – political tension, class warfare and military governments have all had their hand in the country’s tumultuous development. Once home to the proud Incan empire, Ecuador has a rich native heritage that clashed directly with Spanish colonial aspirations. The imposition of western imperialism has created a cultural divide between the mestizos (people of Spanish descent) and the indigenas (the native peoples of Ecuador); with this divide came racism, classism, and the oppression of native culture and tradition.
In The Queen of Water, Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango tell the harrowing tale of Farinango’s childhood as an indigena growing up in a socially splintered and culturally divided society.
Many young indigena girls are sold to wealthy mestizo families to work as housemaids, and this is precisely what happens to Virginia (Farinango) at just seven years old. Under the impression that she will be paid, Virginia is given away by her family to work for a college professor and his dentist wife with the hopes that she will earn enough receive an education, and live like the wealthy mestizos she emulates in her childhood innocence. Virginia soon realizes that she was given away on the pretense of false promises; she is beaten and abused by the wife, and must put up with the incessant advances of the husband, and is told repeatedly that she is a longa (a derogatory term for native Ecuadorians).
As a child, Virginia is intrigued more by the cunning and ingenuity of McGyver than by the good looks and crooning voices of pop stars. She secretly studies the science books of the professor and his wife, performing clandestine experiments and learning about photosynthesis. Virginia develops a quick wit and keen intelligence of her own accord, and this adds to her uncertainty about her heritage as an indigena.
Virginia’s tale is one of fractured identity, a bildungsroman (a genre of literature focusing on the growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood) rife with uncertainty and cultural division.
Virginia grows accustomed to the life of the wealthy mestizos, and is torn between heritage and comfort when as a teenager she leaves the family she works (slaves) for and returns home. She is at once ashamed and intirigued by her indigena family and their impoverished lifestyle; it is the exact opposite of what she encountered in the world of the mestizos. Her native tongue, Quichua, is lost to her through years of speaking Spanish, so she is not only culturally alienated from her roots, but is also linguistically separated from her family. Virginia must come to terms with her heritage and try to balance her success with her humble upbringings in a society that shuns and represses the indigena culture.
The Queen of Water is at once depressing and inspirational, savage and innocent, and is all the more poignant since it is based on the true story of Farinango’s upbringing. The first-person narrative creates an intimacy between Virginia and the reader; it is a glimpse into the personal diary of a blossoming and resilient young woman.
Find out more about The Queen of Water and its authors at lauraresau.com.