On the surface, Costa Rica’s national anthem seems to be all about peace and hard work. Unlike every other national anthem on the planet, there is barely even a mention of war.
But one line has come under fire lately for its alleged exclusion of Afro-Caribbean people, and a new bill submitted by petition to the Legislative Assembly seeks to change it.
Evgeny Kabanov, a Russian citizen currently in the process of becoming a naturalized Costa Rican, submitted the bill in January. Kabanov says the line, “The tenacious battle of fruitful toil reddens men’s faces” excludes the country’s Afro-Caribbean population because black people’s faces cannot get red.
“It is clear that the face of a person with black skin cannot turn red at all,” Kabanov wrote in a four-page proposal to the Legislative Assembly. To be more inclusive, Kabanov suggests changing just two letters of the anthem, converting the word “enrojece” (to redden), to “endurece” (to harden).
Several Afro-Caribbean leaders have come out in support of the bill, including Atlantic Port Authority Executive Chairwoman Ann McKinley and writer Eulalia Bernard.
“I think these initiatives are important because it gets us talking about things we don’t want to see and don’t want to hear, but that are there,” Bernard told Costa Rican news website CRhoy.com.
In Kabanov’s proposal, he references racism rooted in Costa Rica’s history. Black people could not obtain Costa Rican citizenship until 1949, even if they were born here. Prior to 1949, Afro-Caribbean people were forbidden to leave the Caribbean province of Limón.
Even in 2015 the country still struggles with race issues. Last week two black lawmakers, Epsy Campbell and Maureen Clarke, filed complaints of racist threats after the pair spoke out against public funding for the dramatic adaptation of the controversial novel, Cocorí. The book has been criticized for its racist undertones.
The bill still has a long way to go before it reaches the floor of the Legislative Assembly, but a related bill has already made headway. Last year, lawmakers voted unanimously to define Costa Rica in the Constitution as a multiethnic, plurinational country. The bill passed the first round of voting and must pass one more before it becomes law.