A year after my life changing trip to Spain, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with a group from the University of Minnesota. We were traveling to San José to support a student center for a cadre of university students who grew up in Puerto Limón on the Eastern Coast. These students of African descent grew up speaking English in Limón and were also completely fluent in Spanish.
Many people are surprised to hear that Costa Rica is a part of the African diaspora. About 8% of Costa Ricans have African heritage. In 1872, the British brought workers from Jamaica to toil on the Costa Rican railroad.
The Afro-Caribbeans laborers then worked on coffee and banana plantations on the coast. They were denied Costa Rican citizenship and the right to vote until 1949. Not only that, but their movement was restricted. Black Costa Ricans were forced by segregation laws to remain on the eastern coast in Puerto Limón.
The organization I belonged to funded an English school for the younger students in Puerto Limón. The children graduated ready for college. Our group packed supplies in our suitcases for the University student center in the capital. The scholars were thankful to have a meeting place where they could study, or vent frustrations about daily experiences with racism.
One example: as my Afro-Costa Rican hosts and I got on a bus to go to their apartment, I saw the unfriendly looks that the passengers around us gave them. One of my hosts diffused the situation with humor. My friend on the right side of the photo said in a stage voice in Spanish, “Why are they all looking at us? It must be because we’re so beautiful.”
The three of us smiled; the rest of the passengers looked uncomfortable. It was bravado, when we got off the bus, my friend made a very frustrated noise. She was tired of the daily commute to the tune of hostile stares; tired of feeling rejected and singled out. What is her experience like today?
In the thirty years since my visit, life has improved for Afro-Costa Ricans. They now are employed in all fields, not exclusively agriculture or physical labor. They have a woman who is Vice President and Secretary of State who is of African Descent, Epsy Alejandra Campbell Barr. She is considered to be the Afro-Latina Michelle Obama. Great to hear of another woman leader in the Americas.
I’ll save the sightseeing photos for another time. This story was the one my heart wanted to tell today.
Gracias for visiting Fake Flamenco! I appreciate your comments and haikus. ¡Olé! –Rebecca