Latin America has a unique heritage of race mixture and class struggle, within which is located the domination and repression of countless people of African and Amerindian blood. While Costa Rica is no real exception to this historical trend, many of national proponents claim that their country is so homogenous and egalitarian that it is virtually free of the ethnic- and race-driven conflict that typifies the rest of Latin America. As this paper argues though, Costa Rica is not uniform in ethnicity or class, for there has been a large, thriving West Indian population on its Atlantic Coast for nearly two hundred years. This group's history in Costa Rica illustrates the shortcomings of the country's national myths of egalitarianism.
[...] Marking the next chapter of ethnic and class conflict, UFC - the major developer of Costa Rica and the recipient of the most federal contracts and Costa Rican President Jiménez simultaneously struck up a deal for the further expansion of UFC's industries and the further contraction of West Indian benefits. In the infamous 1934 decree, the government forbade “coloured” labourers' employment outside of the Atlantic coast zone (see attached map), in order not to upset the “racial balance” or cause “civil commotion” (Biesanz 1999). [...]
[...] Persistent anti-Black prejudices among the Hispanic mainstream also bonds Afro-Costa Ricans together, for even though the mainstream may argue that Ticos are egalitarian and racial divisions do not exist, the everyday reality for Costa Rican Blacks is that they encounter anti-Black jokes, negative and stereotypical imagery in media and school texts. Many Afro-Costa Rican teens explore their bi- cultural identity through involvement in Protestant churches, interest in Reggae and Rastafarianism, while also speaking Spanish and maintaining an ardently Costa Rican identity at the same time. [...]
[...] However, not only does this idea reflect the privileges and sheltered lives of its middle-upper class believers, but also insults the struggles of countless peasant groups in the country (as the Afro-Antillean example will illustrate). It is likely also that this attitude is held by those who do not want to confront their own poverty or that of others, for recent statistics indicate that nearly forty percent of the country is in poverty, while a great bulk of the middle and upper classes are in danger of slipping into the lower class (Biesanz 1999). [...]
[...] In this sense then, West Indians had to calculate the usefulness of group solidarity and the ethnic enclave of Limón, versus the discrimination their burdened their Afro-Antillean culture in wider Costa Rica. Even so, no clear decision was ever made by Afro-Costa Ricans, for while on one hand it is true that many of them have shirked Creole English and speak only Spanish, on the other hand very few have actually gone so far as to apply for citizenship (an option offered to native-born Blacks only beginning in 1948 after many Afro-Costa Ricans fought in the civil war on the side of Figueres). [...]
[...] The Black Diaspora in Costa Rica: Upward Mobility and Ethnic Discrimination. In N. Whitten and A Torres (eds.) Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean : social dynamics and cultural transformations (pp. 119-132). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Chomsky, A. and A. Lauria-Santiago (1998). Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean, 1850-1950. Durham: Duke University Press. Dominguez, J. Race and Ethnicity in Latin America: Essays on Mexico, Central and South America, Seventh Edition. [...]
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