San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican street performers juggle, skate and march against new law

Around 10 a.m. Saturday, scores of people – mainly teens and twentysomethings – descend on Parque Central in downtown San José. They greet each other and begin to play: Kids race on skateboards, jugglers toss pins and a circle of unicyclists forms. Everything indicates it will be a relaxed, fun-filled day at the park. But in fact, this is a protest.

Wilson Arroyo, now carrying a megaphone around his waist, has helped spread the word for street performers to convene here today. Their goal is to pressure the government to revise a new Costa Rican traffic law, which Arroyo worries will adversely affect street art and urban sports in public areas. Article 106 indicates that pedestrians who walk between vehicles on the road will be fined. The reform also forbids the use of skateboards in public transit (Article 111).

The performers are in favor of security, helmets and reflective light, Arroyo says, but they want to be allowed to express themselves.

Alioska Zamora, 24, playfully juggles some green rubber balls. This is just her hobby, she says, but she believes the prohibition is wrong. The legislation will hurt honest working people, she says, some who are without education and need a way to meet their needs. Only some do it just for fun, she insists.

Once the park has filled up, six policemen approach the scene. After several uncertain minutes, the impromptu meeting ends, and Arroyo calls for a peaceful march down Second Avenue. He leads the crowd in the direction of the Parque Nacional, located near the Legislative Assembly building, in the center of the capital.

A voice rises up in the streets, and soon protesters chant rhythmically, “Se oye, se siente que el arte está presente” (“It is heard, it is felt, art is here”).

Wilson Arroyo 1

Wilson Arroyo (center, yellow T-shirt) and a group of street performers protest in San José. Courtesy of Rebecca Aguilar

Theater major Door Heyne from the Netherlands joins the protesters. She is an exchange student at the National University in Heredia, and came along to support her friends. “The city is for everyone,” she says. “They’re having fun doing their work. Better than sitting at a desk”.

When the marchers finally arrive at their destination, police officer Marvin Rosales hangs around some of his coworkers watching the artists jump, race and rest on the grass. They are making sure that protesters do not damage property or pedestrians. The law reform is good and necessary, Rosales says. He sees it as a matter of public safety.

Although the protest dwindled after a few hours, it seems the performers are not finished yet. Arroyo urged the crowd to call friends and meet again Oct. 9, at the University of Costa Rica, at 9 a.m.

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