San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Think Nicas Are Taking Over? Think Again

New Book Seeks to Shatter Myths About Immigration in Costa Rica

There are a million Nicaraguans in Costa Rica.

Most prostitutes here are from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Remittances from the United States don’t have much impact on the Costa Rican economy.

Wrong. These are a few of the “myths” about migration the new book “El Mito Roto: Immigration and Emigration in Costa Rica” (“The Shattered Myth: Immigration and Emigration in Costa Rica”) seeks to debunk.

This collection of 18 essays by as many authors touches on topics from xenophobia to sex tourism to machismo.

Published by the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in Spanish only, it’s on sale at the university’s bookstore in the eastern suburb of San Pedro and at others nearby, as well as Lehman and Librería International stores.

Editor Carlos Sandoval sat down with The Tico Times this week at his office at the university’s Center for Social Research to talk about the book.

TT: Where did the idea for this project begin?

CS: It started two years after the death of Natividad Canda (a Nicaraguan immigrant attacked and killed by two Rottweiler guard dogs on the property of an auto mechanic shop in November 2005).

That was a time when anti-immigrant hostility intensified enormously. And, really, it was an embarrassment for the county. In this context, the idea came about that the university should react, that there should be a contribution from the university so that this didn’t happen again in Costa Rica.

What affected you most about the Natividad Canda case?

The way society reacted. First, the media playing the video of the death 1,000 times. It became a fascination. The country was watching someone dying and everyone was just discussing, “Was it the dog, or the guard, or the owner?”No one registered that it was perverse.

What are some of the biggest myths the book seeks to dispel?

One is to confirm that there aren’t as many Nicaraguans here as people say. People say there are 1 million. Statistics confirm there aren’t nearly that many.

How did that false notion come about?

When we say there are a lot of Nicaraguans here, we justify hostility and xenophobia. It’s a way of rationalizing hate and justifying how aggressive we are.

What are some other myths?

One section discusses the population of North Americans and Europeans living here.

There’s a very interesting essay about sex tourism. Not to say that all North American tourists are sex tourists, but there is a significant sector of men who associate Costa Rica with sex tourism.

The essay shows how these people construct their masculinity. The thesis is that in some way it is a masculinity in crisis. These men have great difficulty in finding a partner, and then they find one here and they forget that they are paying.

Another interesting fact is that most sex workers are Costa Ricans. We have invented the idea that they’re all Nicaraguans, Colombians and Dominicans and that Ticas are Virgin Marys who don’t do those things.

The study shows that the great majority are Costa Ricans.

What about myths concerning Costa Ricans living in the United States?

Maybe the most interesting thing is to register the number of Costa Ricans who have left the country, which hadn’t been done. This is something that Costa Ricans don’t imagine – the other side, those who have left.

A few months after the death of Canda, a Costa Rican died in the Miami airport. The police shot at him because they thought he was an Egyptian tied to terrorism. It was very interesting. Suddenly, a Costa Rican in the position of an immigrant. It changed the plot and put us on the other side.

There’s also an essay that looks at the importance of remittances in Costa Rica.

The National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC) released a study recently saying that poverty has decreased. One hypothesis is that the influence of remittances on Costa Rican homes could explain why some families are improving their conditions.

What can people do to debunk these myths?

I think the great task we have as a country is to be more self-reflective and think,“Why, in a country that’s perceived as so peaceful, we are so aggressive at the same time?”

We’re very calm, but we have a passiveaggressive culture. The great challenge we have is to stop creating fantasies about the nation we want and start asking ourselves what kind of society we can build.



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