Interethnic Relations in the Parks, Plazas and Pefia Bars of Otavalo, Ecuador
Eldridge, Amanda L.
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Sociologists and anthropologists debate about the correct methods for conducting ethnographic research and the possibility of researcher bias. I realized that during my project/stay in Otavalo, I was being a true participant observer. I participated in the life of Otavalo, living my daily life, while observing the life of Otavalo. During my second stay in Ecuador, I was a sociology/anthropology student conducting research in Otavalo, but I was also a young single white female from the United States living in Otavalo. I had to make decisions not only about my research but also about my daily Jife. I lived my life for three months in Otavalo -- eating, buying groceries and other items, hanging out, dating, sleeping and studying -- doing all the things I do in the States. While my daily life was guided by my research, my research was also guided by my daily life, something I did not realize until the end of my project/stay. I would observe, for example, during the afternoon in the park in order to conduct research, but sometimes I would decide to observe in the Parque Bolivar because it fit into my daily life and my personal preferences. Or, on the other side, if I was to meet someone in the Parque Bolivar for personal reasons, I would use that time to conduct research. In many ways, I Jived the life of a tourist from North America or Europe in Otavalo. I went to the Plaza de Ponchos to buy artesanfas rather than the Plaza Copacabana to buy mestizo/ white clothing. I went to the pena bar to hear folkloric music rather than the discotheque to hear music from North America and Europe. I hung out in the Parque Bolivar because it was more convenient rather than the Parque Gonzalez Suarez which was more convenient for many indigenous and mestizo people. I ate in restaurants aimed at tourists because of my preferred diet rather than other restaurants aimed at Ecuadorians with Ecuadorian foods. When I realized what I was doing, my first thought was that I had ruined my Senior Individualized Project because of questionable methods and possibly insufficient data. I then realized that, in a sense, I had partially proven my hypothesis. I made decisions as to where I went and what I did based on personal preferences that were guided by my cultural identity, personality and desired ethnic group. Although I knew that I was a woman from the United States in Otavalo, I wanted to live the life of an Ecuadorian and guided my actions to achieve this. When I was not conducting research, I wanted to be with my mestizo and white Ecuadorian friends, unless the Kalamazoo students were in town. Also, I chose the places to where I went knowing my mestizo and white Ecuadorian friends would be there. When I was conducting research and I wanted to observe a particular group, I went to a particular place knowing basically what group would be there based on its description and location. I was able to make realizations about the way I was living my life and, therefore, the way the people of Otavalo were living their lives, because I was in an unfamiliar setting and I had to make decisions based on my background experience and the situation presented to me.