Encouraging Relating to Others

January 14, 2005

WHEN Iasked CarlosSandoval Garcíahow he originallybecame interestedin the topicof Nicaraguanimmigration inCosta Rica, heanswered that itstemmed fromthe fact that hecame from arural Costa Ricanworking-classfamily. He indicatedthat despiteCosta Ricanhistory and folklore idolizing a peasantbackground, rural peasants are oftenviewed as outsiders by modern society.SANDOVAL has drawn a link to thefact that many of the approximately300,000 Nicaraguans living in Costa Ricashare this rural, working-class backgroundand also are discriminated against as outsiders.Thus began a 10-year odysseyexploring and relating social topics such asrace, nationhood and the media toNicaraguan immigration in Costa Rica.Most of Sandoval’s work has focused onthe impoverished neighborhood of LaCarpio in western San José, where, despitecommon rumor, only about 50% of the totalpopulation is Nicaraguan immigrant. In fact,Sandoval plans to begin a project in 2005 topublish a social account of La Carpio asCosta Rica’s “own version of the ghetto.” Afirst generation of children born and raisedin La Carpio has become a new, importantactor in considering the relationshipsbetween the Nicaraguan immigrants (50%),Costa Ricans (48%) and other CentralAmerican immigrants (2%) living there.SANDOVAL’S journalistic background,Ph.D. in cultural studies and currentposition as a Professor of MediaStudies at the University of Costa Ricahave led him to explore several interestingsocial topics and their relation toNicaraguan immigration. His dissertationbecame the basis for his book,“Threatening Others: Nicaraguans and theFormation of National Identities in CostaRica” (“Otros Amenazantes: Los nicaragüensesy la formación de identidadesnacionales en Costa Rica,” in Spanish).Sandoval wrote “Threatening Others”to combine an academic viewpoint with amore practical engagement in the topic ofNicaraguan immigration. He seeks tointroduce the concept of solidarity – withNicaraguans – to Costa Rican culture. Inessence, he is challenging Costa Ricans tothink about themselves and what the realproblems are in Costa Rica by highlightingthe differences and gaps between realityand stereotypes existent in society.This, in turn, fuels the main point of thebook, which connects a debate on nationhood– what it means to be a nation andhow cultures define themselves – and adebate on immigration: in this case,Nicaraguan. His argument is thatNicaraguan immigration has preventedCosta Ricans from being self-criticalbecause they blame their personal, nationaland cultural problems on Nicaraguans.As Sandoval says, “The only thing theydon’t blame on Nicaraguans is the potholesin the streets!”HIS book, available in English and inSpanish, encourages Costa Ricans to thinkmore about their national development andthe “next step” for the country. He finds thisparticularly important given the potentialupcoming free-trade agreement betweenthe United States and Central America(CAFTA) and the fact that people havebecome a commodity in modern society.Nicaraguans have long been stereotypedagainst in Costa Rica; they havebeen labeled as unwanted outsiders. Dr.Carlos Sandoval has spent the past 10years studying and interacting withNicaraguan communities in an effort toclassify race and ethnicity as a factor indefining Costa Rican nationhood. Hisbook, “Threatening Others,” provides bothan academic and realistic commentary onidentity, nationhood and Nicaraguan immigrationin Costa Rica.

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