Settlement and Economic Life

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Ecuadoreans/Lynne Phillips

Over 80 percent of Ecuadoreans live in Ontario, with a much smaller number in Quebec and just a fraction of the population in Alberta and British Columbia. Many who originally arrived in Quebec soon moved to Toronto. They usually did so because they knew someone in that city who might help them to find employment, though the fact that many Latin Americans who lived in Quebec felt that they are discriminated against might also have contributed to the decision to move.

Canada’s largest Latin American community, located in Toronto, grew enormously during the 1970s and 1980s. It is far from homogeneous, however, and there is some ambivalence among its members about the meaning of a Latin American – as opposed to a Chilean, Argentinian, Ecuadorean, or other – identity. The internal divisions within the community can be at least partly explained by class and political differences. Many of those from Chile and Argentina are exiled professionals, while immigrants from Central America came primarily as political refugees. By contrast, the majority of Ecuadoreans who arrived in Canada were not professionals, and they came of their own accord.

Ecuadoreans have tended to settle around urban industrial areas for reasons of employment, since most have found jobs working in light manufacturing, the garment industry, or services. During the height of Ecuadorean immigration in the 1970s, many experienced employment discrimination. Regardless of their previous occupations, they took unskilled work at a higher rate than any other Spanish-speaking group in Toronto. A study based on data from the Toronto suburb of North York found that none of the males who had been professionals, self-employed or white-collar workers, or students in Ecuador obtained a job of higher or even similar status in Canada.

Although employment discontinuities occur for most Spanish-speaking immigrants when they come to Canada, it seems that women are more likely to have difficulty obtaining appropriate work than men. Ecuadorean women generally report that they have come to this country for family-related reasons and that they are more deficient in English than their male counterparts. Also, women in Canada tend to work outside the home to a greater extent than they would have done in Ecuador. According to one study of Latin Americans, the majority of whom were Ecuadoreans, almost 100 percent of the women employed outside the home had earnings below the poverty line determined by Statistics Canada.

In many cases, Ecuadorean women work to pay off debt their families accumulated acquiring the material goods considered an essential part of life in Canada. They may put in longer hours to compensate for the particularly low wages that women often receive. Furthermore, although many Ecuadorean women work outside the home, a division of labour in which women are responsible for cooking, childcare, and housework persists. It is not insignificant that most families continue to follow an Ecuadorean diet, even though the preparation of such food is labour-intensive. This double load for women sometimes results in health problems, such as fatigue and anxiety, increased family tensions, and less time to learn English in order to improve their employment possibilities.