L iterally meaning “the equalizer,” “the Equator” seems a funny way to describe the principal dividing line on Earth. And yet, that division is the basis for the great unifiers of latitude and longitude, which place every point on the planet into a shared grid, where less than six latitudinal degrees west of New Haven, the city of Quito, Ecuador, anchors a country named after that very same pivotal line, which it straddles.
You can think of New Haven’s Ecuadorian Consulate—or Consulado General del Ecuador—as an equalizer, too, and one that also straddles two sides of the earth. For New Haven’s several thousand Ecuadorian immigrants, the facility, opened in 2008, isn’t just a place to renew passports and visas. It’s also a place to take driver’s ed classes, to get help finding employment and to obtain basic legal information. It’s even a place to register their vote back home: uniquely, the country’s National Assembly apportions two seats for representatives of citizens living abroad. For the rest of us, the consulate can help with visas for traveling, studying and working in Ecuador.
It all happens on the ground floor of a stony, glassy building at the corner of Church and George Streets. Inside, it’s not the grandiose, polished-woodwork-and-gilded-paintings setup you might imagine. Instead it reads more like a modern office, with a walk-up counter and bays of desks between dark-grey wall-to-wall carpeting and a white drop ceiling, albeit an especially high one.
Among the people the consulate serves is Darwin, an expat living in Meriden, Connecticut (who preferred not to give us his last name). Following relatives who immigrated to the U.S. during Ecuador’s banking crisis in the late ’90s, Darwin arrived stateside in 2000, moving to Meriden to live with his father. By 2008, the home country’s economy had improved enough that Darwin considered returning, but a romance stopped him in his tracks. That was the year he began dating Lori, a U.S. citizen, now his wife.
Lori notes how it was for her husband before the New Haven consulate opened in 2008, when visiting the closest similar office meant trekking to New York City. “When Darwin moved here in 2000, he had to take a whole day off from work” just to renew his passport, she says. Now, with the consulate in New Haven, she estimates he’s there twice a month, with ease. For Darwin, keeping a connection to his homeland is important for reasons that go beyond nostalgia or heritage: he still maintains bank accounts and owns land there, and the consulate assists him with the necessary processes for managing those assets, including paying taxes, while abroad.
New Haven’s Ecuadorians don’t spend too much of their time at the consulate, of course. The community—reportedly tallied at just shy of 7,000 by the 2010 U.S. Census, though undocumented immigrants could push the actual number thousands higher—is mostly concentrated in Fair Haven. Virgen Del Cisne (literally “Virgin Swan”), a local organization through which many of the community’s big cultural events and activities occur, organizes a popular soccer league and puts on an annual parade/festival.
What is it about New Haven that attracts so many Ecuadorians? It’s hard to say, though Darwin pinpoints one reason: Connecticut as a whole, he says, is viewed as a comparatively safe space for immigrants, with a higher institutional tolerance for the undocumented and, therefore, towards those merely suspected of the same. And within the state, New Haven is particularly immigrant-friendly, with its easy-to-acquire municipal IDs making it possible to do fundamental things like open a bank account. There’s also the city’s central location, access to regional transport facilities and, by now, a big, pre-established cultural community to ease the transition.
And, of course, there’s the consulate, which, along with the standard ways it serves its constituencies, also deals with the unexpected. In October 2012, an anonymous woman dropped off four ceramic pre-Hispanic artifacts from roughly 700 BCE, which were subsequently re-patriated to Ecuador. In April 2014, during Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa’s visit to Yale, several locals gathered outside the consulate to protest his refusal to meet more directly with the expat community.
Citizens seeking to be heard by their government—what’s more American than that?
Consulate General of Ecuador
1 Church St, 1st Fl, New Haven (map)
Written by Will Gardner. Photographed by Dan Mims.