the experience of nicaraguans in costa rica
At the SfAA meetings a few weeks ago in Mexico, I found myself seated at dinner across from a nice Costa Rican doctoral student who adamantly insisted that there wasn’t the kind of strong stigmatization and discrimination against Nicaraguans in his country as I was describing (I had been talking about my research with families of migrants in Nicaragua, and the experiences i’ve had working with NGOs on human rights and documentation issues). Needless to say, I might not have been as effective as I could have been over that dinner table conversation in expressing these experiences. Today I was reviewing the transcript of an interview conducted with "Patricia", a woman in her early 40s who has migrated both to Costa Rica and España in the last decade and thought she says better than I ever could what these experiences mean. In Costa Rica, Patricia worked in a variety of jobs, including empleada domestica, cutting coffee in the harvest season, and also in a supervisory role in a factory (she has a college degree in industrial engineering). In describing her experiences in Costa Rica, Patrica said the following (I’m pasting her Spanish, and following it with my English translation). I’m hoping this provides some insight, some greater sympathy, and a dose of humanity to the way we perceive and interact with migrants, including those in our neighborhoods and communities. Paz.
“Si hay una cosa. Como nicaragüense viviendo en Costa Rica yo me sentía como extranjera. Nunca me sentí como bien, verdad como decir estar uno en su país. Sino que me sentía como que estaba usurpando algo. Otro lugar donde no debía de estar. Porque en principio las personas cuando le encuentran a uno la forma de hablar que uno no habla como ellos, que uno no es costarricense pues desde ese momento ya le están viendo extraño a uno, si. … Me decían nica. No dicen nicaragüense. Me decían ¿usted es nica? Si les decía yo. Ellos decían: “ya decía yo”. ¿Por qué? Por el hablado… No se porque, pero tienen la idea que los nicaragüenses somos analfabetas. Tienen la idea de qué no tenemos casas. Tienen la idea que somos miserables. Ellos tienen la idea que todos los nicas que están allá es porque son miserables. Ellos tienen esa idea. Y la verdad no es así, pues. A veces uno va porque primero por la falta de empleo acá y segundo porque uno quiere sentirse útil. No es porque necesariamente seamos miserables. Pero eso es lo que ellos creen de los nicaragüenses.”
"Yes there’s one thing. As a nicaraguan living in Costa Rica I felt like a foreigner. I never felt good, really like one feels being in their own country. Instead I felt like I was usurping (taking) something in another place where I shouldn’t have been. Because at first when people find your way of talking that isn’t like theirs, they know that you aren’t Costa Rican, and well from that moment they look at you strangely.. They called me "nica" (a despreciative term); they don’t say "Nicaragüense". That asked me "are you Nica?" and I said "yes". They said "I told you so". Why? For my way of talking. I don’t know why, but they have the idea that all Nicaraguans are illiterate. They have the idea that we are homeless. They think that we are wretched. They have the idea that all nicas are there (in Costa Rica) because we are scoundrels. They have this idea. And this isn’t the truth. Sometimes one goes (migrates) for the lack of work here (in Nicaragua) and second because one wants to feel useful. It’s not necessarily because we are wretched. But this is what they think about Nicaraguans."