Updated: Jun 3, 2022
By Juan Francisco Carrasco
When I was asked to write a special article for Mother's Day, the first thing that came to my mind was that this would be the perfect occasion to pay a small tribute to a woman I admire, Rosa Elena Tránsito Amaguaña Alba. As an activist she became a true mother for the indigenous people in Ecuador, that's why everyone knew her as Mamá Transito.
Traveling with my family around the country has allowed me to get to know many wonderful places, the different cultures and traditions of our country, and learn about the lives of people who have shaped our history. The story of Mamá Transito was unknown to me until 2020. One day, on one of our family trips we arrived at a small town in the parroquia of Olmedo, in Cayambe, called La Chimba.
La Chimba does not have great infrastructure nor any recreational activities, but there we found the “Centro Intercultural Transito Amaguaña,” a place where I had the opportunity to learn about the life and achievements of this great woman.
The story of Mama Transito is quite sad, from a very young age she witnessed the mistreatment that her parents received from their bosses on the farm where they worked as “huasipunguero” (indigenous people who were assigned a small piece of land to live and plant in exchange for agricultural work on the land of their employers). Her parents were victims of physical abuse by their bosses for a long time, and they did not receive a fair wage for their work. Instead of receiving money like any other worker, because they were indigenous, they only received a piece of land to plant and raise animals for their subsistence.
Transito Amaguaña went to school only for a very short period of time and when she was seven years old she began working in her parent’s boss’ farm house doing the cleaning. At the age of 14 they forced her to marry an older man with whom she had four children. After a few years she got divorced because her husband mistreated her.
Mama Transito was sure that indigenous people should have the same rights as other workers and that there were no reasons to be mistreated, that is why when she was very young she began working with indigenous communities, helping them understand their rights and defend them. By joining the Ecuadorian Communist Party she became one of the most important figures in indigenous trade unionism. She encouraged many indigenous communities to fight for their labor rights and to demand that owners hand over the lands that belonged to them. For this reason, she was imprisoned on several occasions, as she was accused of being a guerrilla.
Thanks to her leadership, in 1944 the President José María Velasco Ibarra officially recognized the Indigenous Peasant Organizations in Ecuador and in 1950 the first bilingual schools (Spanish-Quechua) were created to educate the indigenous peasant population. In 1964, the Agrarian Reform eliminated the huasipungos and the “servicias” (domestic exploitation system) and therefore the indigenous people gained equitable access to land for agricultural purposes and their labor rights were recognized.
Mama Transito passed away at the age of 100, leaving a legacy for the indigenous communities of Ecuador. She was like a mother that taught them to fight for their rights, make their voices be heard, and defend their lands.