The myth of the “Pure Tico”

OUR FEATURE AT A GLANCE

Since pre-Columbian times, the diverse flows of migrants into Costa Rican territory have shaped the country’s genetic and cultural heritage.

Meet a few of the many Costa Ricans who are proud of their immigrant heritage, from the President to a pop star to a university president;

Let our experts take you back in time to key moments in the history of Costa Rican immigration - travel 500 years in just a few minutes;

And share your own story with the hashtag #SoyMigranteCR.

Gloriana Pacheco – for The Tico Times and Punto y Aparte @glorianapacheco
Read why The Tico Times Staff is celebrating immigration and diversity in 2017.

Immigration dominated headlines in 2016, in Costa Rica and around the world. We all saw images of long lines of migrants fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa to Europe. We saw anti-immigrant banners during the U.S. elections. In Costa Rica, the problem came home to roost when Cuban, Haitian and African migrants were stranded here on their way to the United States; many here were shocked, divided and polarized regarding the reception and treatment that migrants deserve.

How much do Costa Ricans really embrace other nationalities and cultures? How bad is racism and xenophobia among Ticos?

One person might respond with a resounding “Really bad”, or “Not that bad”, or even “There’s no racism at all”. The truth is that it depends - on whom you ask, on the nationality in question, and on each individual’s own family history. We have all seen it rear its head: Ticos shouting "Indians" or “negros” to soccer players in stadiums. Ticos making cruel jokes about those who were born in neighboring countries because of their skin color or their lack of education – while simultaneously criticizing anyone who make fun of Costa Ricans. Ticos so offended that the Nicaraguan national anthem might be sung during a special celebration at schools with large immigrant populations, that they kept their kids home from school that day. Ticos convinced that a person who arrives in Costa Rica with money to live on - expatriates - has more rights or is less threatening than one who arrives with nothing – migrants. Ticos who use “chinos”, “negros” or “gringos” as general terms to refer to people from any Asian, Africans or North American countries.

Those are common reactions from those Ticos who believe they are “pure Ticos” – as Costa Rican as their national dishes, as their gallo pinto, their olla de carne or their tamal, whiter than neighboring countries and without a drop of foreign blood - unless they have white European ancestry, which they claim proudly – but not indigenous or black. Fortunately it is not the opinion of the majority but rather a piece of historical fiction that fades quickly when it meets with information.

This question inspired this special feature on the history of immigration in Costa Rica and the contribution of migrants to this country – a result of The Tico Times’ participation in the Punto y Aparte project. Read on!

Costa Rica has the third-highest percentage of foreign-born residents in Latin America (9 percent)

(Horizons 2030, CECLAC)

Costa Rica has the third-highest percentage of foreign-born residents in Latin America (9 percent)

(Horizons 2030, CECLAC)

It is easy for an average Costa Rican to speak out against discrimination against Latinos in the United States because he or she might have a relative or acquaintance there. That empathy is likely to increase because, although Costa Rica still has the lowest rate of emigration in Latin America – 2.4 percent compared to 4.8 percent for the region – the number of Costa Ricans leaving the country has increased.

The number of Ticos living outside of Costa Rica went from 60,000 in the year 2000, to 125,000 in 2011, according to data of Gilbert Brenes, researcher at the Central American Center of Population of the University of Costa Rica (UCR).

Ticos out of the country: 60.000 in 2000 to 125.000 in 2011

(Source: Central American Population Center, 2011)

Ticos out of the country: 60.000 in 2000 to 125.000 in 2011

(Source: Central American Population Center, 2011)

Have Ticos the same empathy with their immigrants? 83 percent of those surveyed by the Institute for Social Studies in Population (IDESPO) in 2016 agreed that Costa Rica should give migrants health services from the Costa Rican Social Security System (CCSS, or Caja) but 17 percent did not agree.

Immigrant labor contributes 12 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of Costa Rica

(Source: INCAE-CLADS -2016)

Immigrant labor contributes 12 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of Costa Rica

(Source: INCAE-CLADS -2016)

Data show Costa Ricans’ perception of immigration. The survey of Ticos’ perception of foreigners in Costa Rica, conducted by the National University’s Social Studies Institute, or IDESPO, in 2014, “found that many Costa Ricans view U.S. expats as ‘wealthy’ and ‘powerful,’ while they believe Nicaraguans ‘come to work’ and ‘seek the well-being of their families.’”

In the study “53 percent said foreigners come here to work seeking opportunities and a better life. Some 16 percent said foreigners migrate here to take jobs that Costa Ricans don’t want, which they said helps boost the economy.”

A specific study about Ticos’ perception of Nicaraguans by IDESPO in april 2016 showed a similar trend. Only 10.6 percent of the respondents said that "they should not come, they generate problems." In fact, the survey notes that 73.2 percent of respondents disagree with increased border restrictions on Nicaraguans coming to Costa Rica.

On the other hand, a significant 23.4 percent agreed with increasing restrictions. That percentage, the study concludes, "certainly speaks of some hostile attitude staying in a hard core of Costa Ricans against their Nicaraguan neighbors and can be exacerbated at junctures, particularly important when diplomatic and political tension increases between both countries."

Is there a breeding ground for ideas about restricting social services, employment or even entry to migrants?

It’s a good question for a country with a 9 percent of people born abroad –overtaken by French Guyana and Belize – according to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA)

According to population projections made by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) and the Central American Population Center, that trend will stabilize or decrease by mid-century, along with the total population. According to those projections, “Costa Rica will have 6.2 million inhabitants in 2063, but from that year will begin to decrease to stand close to 5.9 million people in 2060.”

The diversity of nationalities is also expressed in the numbers of births. Of the 71,819 births in Costa Rica in 2015, 13,213 were to mothers who came from 65 countries, according to data from the INEC.

“In the second half of the 19th century we had citizens of Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Jamaican, Panamanian, American, German, Polish, Russian, Belarusian, Cuban, Argentine, Chilean, Swiss, Mexican and Dominican origin … with great impact on science, art, education, engineering, medicine and the army.”

Vladimir de la Cruz

“In the second half of the 19th century we had citizens of Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Jamaican, Panamanian, American, German, Polish, Russian, Belarusian, Cuban, Argentine, Chilean, Swiss, Mexican and Dominican origin … with great impact on science, art, education, engineering, medicine and the army.”

Vladimir de la Cruz

As a result of the Costa Rican refugee and migrant policies the country has been rewarded by the talent and heritage that hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their descendants – poor and rich – have delivered to the country in every field.

Deportations 2015: 560 Cubans, 430 Nicaraguans, 39 Colombians, 18 U.S. citizens. Entrance denied to 2,359 Nicaraguans and 115 Colombians.

Refugee status request: 1,665, of which 124 were recognized and 442 rejected.

Source: Ministry of Governance-Institutional Report -2015

Deportations 2015: 560 Cubans, 430 Nicaraguans, 39 Colombians, 18 U.S. citizens. Entrance denied to 2,359 Nicaraguans and 115 Colombians.

Refugee status request: 1,665, of which 124 were recognized and 442 rejected.

Source: Ministry of Governance-Institutional Report -2015

To guide policy at the national level, Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly approved the National Policy on Cultural Rights in December 2013; this policy will guide the decisions of the government until 2023. On August 24, 2015, President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a reform to Article One of the Costa Rican Constitution, changing the wording to state that "Costa Rica is a democratic, free, independent, multi-ethnic and multicultural republic."

In their reasoning when they approved the reform, legislators explained that "over time, diverse nationalities including Chinese, Indian, Italian, German, Jamaican, Polish, Chilean, Argentine, Jewish, Nicaraguan, Taiwanese, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Colombian, Panamanian, among other groups, came here. Whether it was by their own free will, in the search for a better future, or forcedly fleeing wars or dictatorships, as political refugees, merchants, tourists, fugitives, residents or undocumented migrants, the reality is one: Costa Rica has its current appearance of multiculturalism and is multilingual, thanks to the migratory flows in its history.”

Getting to know a new culture is fascinating. And if the culture also opens doors and you begin to have a relationship with that culture, friends and even affection for members of that culture, aaahh, your soul is taken. You enter into affection and you are of that culture. When you get closer to a culture, you lose your fear.

Henning Jensen

Rector of the University of Costa Rica (UCR)

"The majority of migrants have at least partially fulfilled their expectations of better living conditions," said researcher Ronald Arce, in a study for the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS-INCAE) and the Alliance for Migrations in Central America and Mexico (CAMMINA). Arce analyzed various indicators to calculate that the contribution of the immigrant population to the economy represents 12 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Victor Umaña

Director of the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS)

Cinthya Ye

Statistics Student, UCR

As in many countries around the world, attitudes toward immigration vary sharply depending on the country of origin or socioeconomic context of specific immigration waves. In Costa Rica, for example, temporary or permanent residents with privileged socioeconomic status and high educational attainment, often known as expatriates have been settled for years, but the country has also been receiving for years waves of poor Nicaraguan neighbors, who became the majority of foreigners at the end of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Publications of the “Eye to Migration” platform and the Amelia Rueda website provide data and demystify many of the beliefs about Nicaraguan immigration and emigration of ethnic groups to the United States.

Rafael Herrador

Business Administration Student, Universidad Nacional (UNA)

According to the third-quarter 2016 report on family remittance income from the Central Bank of Nicaragua, Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica were responsible for 20.8 percent of remittances sent home to Nicaragua. The amount sent home during July-September 2016 was $65 million, up from $58.1 million in the same period in 2015 – a year-on-year increase of 11.9 percent. Nicaraguans make up the largest immigrant group and send an average of $110 per month in remittances to Nicaragua.

Pablo Attilio Kozmann Rodríguez

Electronics Student, Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC)

In Costa Rica, 30 percent of immigrants have irregular immigration status. The main cause for this is high costs and cumbersome procedures. In April 2016, the Immigration Administration stated that 120 applications for residency are filed daily; the department has a whopping 20,000 being processed (or en trámite, a phrase that quickly becomes familiar to any new arrival), but the government lacks the resources to resolve a request in less than a year.

Read on to find videos with the personal stories immigrants and their descendents, , and the commentary of renowned historian Vladimir de la Cruz, who captures in minutes the complex history and little-known anecdotes of Costa Rica’s migratory patterns.

The following is an X-ray of the immigrant population in Costa Rica that will be completed soon by the results of the First National Survey of Immigration and Emigration in Costa Rica, directed Jorge Barquero, a researcher at the Central American Population Center Sponsorship of the International Organization for Migration.

X-ray of the migrant population
X-ray of the migrant population

The immigrant population has mixed with locals throughout the country in a continuum that has enriched the genetic makeup of the inhabitants of Costa Rica since the first settlers. The bulk of the current population born in another country comes from Nicaragua and is concentrated in the Northern Zone, Central Pacific and the Talamanca area. In San José, the canton of Escazú is home to high concentration of immigrants.

Edgar Silva Loáiciga

Journalist

The history of Costa Rica begins not with the arrival of the Europeans, but long before. Archaeological evidence indicates that the present territory of Costa Rica has been occupied by human groups for approximately 12,000 years ... Southern Central America is a narrow strip of land between two seas, with high mountain ranges, fertile valleys, broad plains and a great biodiversity and, contrary to what has been proposed by some specialists, did not function simply as a zone of passage between Mesoamerica and South America for groups such as the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs, to mention only a few. There was a process of local development with regional diversity of similar antiquity to those of the rest of America. The area was not merely the byproduct of the great cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andean Region; rather, it was home to its own process and contributions at a regional level.

The violence of the conquest led to the extermination of thousands of indigenous people from all groups. On this foundation of violence, the genetic heritage of today’s Costa Ricans was built. The conquest and the colonization of our territory were carried out by Spaniards but also by Creoles, mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) and mulatos (mixed black and white heritage).

There was a lot of violence – the rape of women of the vanquished is still common practice in many wars around the entire world, and in some cases a matter of convenience. It was one way of allying with indigenous groups was to accept women from them and then to dominate others groups with the support of new partners.

Vladimir de la Cruz, historian: “Rape during the conquest”

We have genetically verified the mixture between indigenous and Spanish from the beginning, so most of our population has that heritage.

Spaniards came from Andalusia, Extremadura, Castilla la Nueva, Navarra, Galicia

No one wants to be descended from Indians of ‘encomienda’ or black slaves because they were in the lower levels of Ibero-American societies in the colonial period. On the other hand, they find it totally natural and ideal to descend from the conqueror, the ‘encomendero,’ the master... In their search for the ‘illustrious,’ ‘founders,’ ‘notorious children of hidalgo blood,’ they have built some of the most fantastic stories... They made up ‘indigenous princesses’ to fill some empty branch [in their family tree] ...but the original origin of our people goes back to three basic roots: indigenous, African and Spanish.

Hugo Díaz, Lalo
Hugo Díaz, Lalo

Slaves came from Senegal, Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Benin, Biafra and Central Africa

Trade with English ships put English onto the mainland and also their liberal ideas

Clasificación colonial de relaciones
Clasificación colonial de relaciones

At the end of the 17th and 18th centuries, in all existing settlements, hundreds of mestizo and mulato families appeared. How can we explain this large contingent of mixed families if it is not for their mixing in previous generations? In the next stage the natives were already removed by the mestizos from the Indian register. For Cartago, in 1778, 65.4 percent of the population was mestizo; 25.5 percent mulatos and 9.1 percent Spaniards (note that a quarter of the population of Cartago had African ancestors)

Shara Duncan Villalobos

Diplomat

Italians organized the largest labor strikes of the 19th century

Esteban Aronne Sparisci

Journalist

Immigration had a big impact on art, music, science, theater…

In the decades of the 30s and 40s, due to the rise of Nazi fascism in Europe, especially in Italy and Germany, a Jewish-Polish migration started to occur to Costa Rica.

In 20th century, Costa Rica became a very important center of migrants.

Diego Delfino Machín

Director @Contexto

Germans also came up with the idea of ​​colonizing Sarapiqui

Something that is not talked about much is that many Nicaraguan families are from Costa Rica

Where the Tico came from…

There are three types of studies to analyze genetic patterns. The Y chromosome analyzes paternal inheritance, the maternal mitochondria and the nuclear joint family composition.

Tipos de métodos de estudio: linaje materno, materno, nuclear
Tipos de métodos de estudio: linaje materno, materno, nuclear

In a human genome, the father and mother each contribute 50 percent; a grandfather represents 25 percent; a great-grandfather 12.5 percent; from a great-great-grandfather 6.25 percent; a great-great-great-grandfather 3.125 percent, and so on. Between siblings, the genetic characteristics vary.

Ascendientes personales
Ascendientes personales

For the study of genetic patterns of Costa Ricans, geneticists Bernal Morera and Ramiro Barrantes randomly collected blood samples from different hospitals throughout the country, detecting that a large portion of the population in general had the same genetic markers. They published their study in 2001.

Composición genética tico promedio
Composición genética tico promedio

Barrantes and other colleagues published another report in 2013 that found similar values for European, Amerindian and Afro-descendant heritage, and recorded an Asian presence of 9.2 percent in Costa Rican genetic inheritance.

In 2017, Morera will publish a new study, whose findings will collaborate with the genetic mapping of Costa Ricans.

All Native Americans, ancient and modern, stem from a single source population in Siberia that split from other Asians around 23,000 years ago and moved into the now-drowned land of Beringia. After up to 8,000 years in Beringia, they spread in a single wave into the Americas and then split into northern and southern branches about 13,000 years ago.

The grandmother of all Ticos

All that cultural wealth has created a lot of diversity in Costa Rican homes from Casa Presidencial on down.

With the guidance of genealogist Mauricio Melendez, we studied for this project three lines of descent of the family trees of the last four presidents. The results proved once again our genetic inheritance because they descend from the same indigenous women.

The indigenous women Catalina Tuia —also known as Pereira, the name of her “encomendero” – had mestizos. According to studies based on the historical archives of Gabriel Gaspar, falls 80 percent of Costa Ricans and 60 percent of Costa Rican descended from her offspring, and she is a common factor in the family trees of Luis Guillermo Solís, Laura Chinchilla, Oscar Arias and Abel Pacheco.

This study was carried out based on genealogical analyses of the expert Mauricio Meléndez on records of Costa Rican inhabitants since 1594, as well as records from ecclesiastical authorities, who recorded the baptisms, deaths and marriages, but not births. These documents have served to bring together the puzzle pieces of the Costa Rican past.

Since 1888 the entity that safeguards these files is the Civil Registry. At the top of his list of family names is Rodríguez, the most common among Ticos, with a total of 122,450 people (as of September, 2016). They are followed by Vargas with 102,033 and Jiménez in third place, with 101,397 people.

Ascendencia indígena de presidentes
Ascendencia indígena de presidentes

Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera: His Afro-Caribbean roots are recent: his maternal grandmother was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants. William A. Allen arrived in Costa Rica with his wife, María R. Taylor, from Kingston, Jamaica.

Ascendencia afrocaribeña de Luis Guillermo Solís
Ascendencia afrocaribeña de Luis Guillermo Solís
Eugenia Allen, abuela del presidente, nacida en Jamaica. La niña en su regazo es la madre del presidente. Cortesía de la familia Solís Rivera.
Eugenia Allen, abuela del presidente, nacida en Jamaica. La niña en su regazo es la madre del presidente. Cortesía de la familia Solís Rivera.

Likewise, Solís has Spanish ancestors, a branch of the Castro family, which he shares with former president Oscar Arias Sánchez.

Luis Guillermo Solís

President

Ascendencia españonla de Luis Guillermo Solís y Óscar Arias
Ascendencia españonla de Luis Guillermo Solís y Óscar Arias

Former president Laura Chinchilla Miranda has ancestors with the last name Fallas, but from two completely different branches: one is Spanish, and the other goes back to a slave.

Ascendencia esclava de Laura Chinchilla
Ascendencia esclava de Laura Chinchilla
Ascendencia española de Laura Chinchilla
Ascendencia española de Laura Chinchilla

Laura Chinchilla

Ex-president

Former President Oscar Arias shares his indigenous line with all three of the other leaders, and his Spanish line with Luis Guillermo Solís. Arias also has a mixed-race or mulata line, originated by Ana Cardoso.

Finally, of Abel Pacheco de la Espriella’s 16 great-great-grandparents, six were Colombians, five Costa Ricans, three Nicaraguans and one Panamanian.

Of the 16 great-great-grandparents, 62.5 percent had been born outside of Costa Rica, according to Meléndez.

Vladimir de la Cruz

Historian

Costa Rican traditions

The history of Costa Rican immigration can be seen in the faces and family histories of the population, but also in the country’s most beloved cultural institutions. In November 2005, UNESCO declared the tradition of the boyeo (oxcart driving) and the Costa Rican carreta (oxcart) a "masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." Since 2003, the University of Costa Rica (UCR) has been working on the communal project "Contribution to the conservation and revitalization of traditional Costa Rican cuisine, traditional games and turnos (community street fairs),” which preserves and celebrates a wide range of traditions, working with both young people and older adults. All of these demonstrate the influence of mestizaje (indigenous and non-indigenous blending) as well as cultural influences from other migratory flows.

And Costa Rica’s international history can be seen on the plate. The UCR is also the leader of the National Plan for Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy together with the Costa Rican Chamber of Restaurants (CACORE), seeking new legislation to celebrate and preserve the diversity of Costa Rican culinary heritage, as has already been done in 21 Latin American countries.

In the case of Costa Rica it is not possible to speak of a single cuisine. Variables such as the production and availability of food by region, the impact of internal migrations, the contribution of other cultures, and socio-historical transformations have contributed to and continue to enrich the various forms of culinary expression, which in turn constitute a national cuisine.

The ethnodiversity of the country can be seen in its food diversity. Costa Rica and American cultures in general shared with the rest of the world plant and animal foods that are already part of the world’s culinary culture. Maize, cacao, chompipe (turkey), tomato and chile are among the most representative.

It’s important to recognize at least three regional cuisines: of the Central Valley, of Guanacaste, and Afro-Caribbean. Instead of covering up these differences, let’s expose and value them.

This special report on Costa Rican immigration is a part of a renewed effort by The Tico Times to continue its more than 60-year tradition of telling the stories of Costa Rica’s international community. In the coming weeks we will be launching a series of profiles of foreign-born residents of Costa Rica, as well as a series focused on Costa Ricans living outside the country and doing extraordinary things for their adopted countries.

Throughout this endeavor, we want your input. What are your favorite cross-border Costa Rican stories? How did you or your family come to hitch your wagon to this extraordinary country? Which Costa Ricans far from home should we profile? We hope many of you will share with us your stories, comments and suggestions for the series described above.

And if you’re inspired to share a video with your story of Costa Rican immigration, or your family’s, share it on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #SoyMigranteCR!