Exploring the “Whys” of Culture

Through the lecture taught by Dr./ Professor Joaquín Lizano, I was able to augment my understanding of Costa Rican history, which, in turn, influenced by understating of their culture. Many questions and misconnections can be corrected or understood just by knowing what happened in the past.

Why is there no army?

One of the strange things about Costa Rica is their lack of an army. Many people may wonder why theirs was abolished and how the country easily moves on without one. The reasoning behind not having an army comes from Thomas Guardia who had a plan to make Costa Rica more civilized. His movements led Costa Rica to become the richest and most desirable country in Latin America. Without the funds going toward an army, there was more money going toward other things such as the people, health care, the arts, and schools. Rather than having an army, Costa Rica has defenses from their police, some of which have training from the United States Army and use those tactics on the streets. Although people can perceive Costa Rica as always amicable and neutral without an army, there can still be tension within the country. It is not rare to see the police become more aggressive than necessary during rallies and protests, even with freedom to congregate. In my opinion, the police is essentially the same as a military, especially those who have the same training, but the perception that the country does not experience any turmoil is skewed. Although Costa Rica does not have wars with other countries, there is still violence within it. Many say Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth, but no country is perfect, there are still some problems that internally arise. I think this works well for a small country, to have a strong police rather than a military that may take unnecessary funding. I think the problems that arise also help the world understand no system is going to be perfect, but each situation is unique and not every system can work for every country.

Why is there a strong focus on sustainability?

Costa Rican culture appears to have a strong focus on sustainability, however, when looking into the country’s daily activities, many may question whether this is true and how different this country is in comparison to others like the United States. Why does Costa Rica appear so sustainable? The large focus on agriculture comes from the original deforestation from the Spanish inquisition, the population took 400 years to repopulate and there was a large investment in trying to build the country into what it was. Later on, there was a period of time when people wanted to start to make money for themselves, so in the early 1900s, the state sanctioned families to set up plots of lands in the mountains where they could build farms to support their families. This created a strong middle class and a decent proportion of the population to depend on the environment and “well-being” of the land so that they could continue to grow crops such as coffee, fruit, and macadamia. I think the belief revolving around sustainability is derived from the focus and economic dependence on agriculture and how, when talking to Ticos, there is a more relaxed though process where they do not need extravagance to be successful. They are the type of people to take advantage of what is around them and not going to extremes for irrelevant things. A result of this mentality is environmental sustainability which appears strange to other countries and is what makes Costa Rica so successful at a low cost (as explained in the Lecture with the drawing). This mentality is seen in some Ticos but for different reasons. They try to minimize waste due to the lack of sewage power and garbage disposal in comparison to the US. They enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables because they are grown locally and do not need to be imported. I think sustainability started as more of a result of their habits and ways of life that were later transformed into their culture and is now a big part of the country.

Why is education and healthcare provided?

Another interesting insight into the country is its ability to provide for everyone. Other countries may wonder why Costa Rica provides education and healthcare for little fees. In many countries, the government tries to have the population pay a lot for health care and many colleges, especially in the US, have students pay an arm and a leg for education, even if it is a public school. The reasoning behind this derives from their desire to be able to move throughout the social rankings and have opportunities to have a better life for a small fee as long as they can make it to the University. This system of access is highly supported in Costa Rica. The CCSS or Costa Rica’s universal health care program. For the past 75 years, health is a priority of the state so any citizen who needs aid can go to a state run facility and receive aid. The implementation of CCSS changed the entire environment of Costa Rica for the better and less people were dying or becoming ill. This is what makes Costa Rica unique, rather than having a focus on the monetary values, there is a focus on the value of life and each individual person. I think this is important because not many people look into the values of each other and as a person who has a life to live but rather as a way to gain money. Many people are attracted by greed and economics that they forget about the true value each person holds that goes beyond their social class or wealth. I believe Costa Rica’s government is “richer” in the beautiful sense of the word when understanding true values.

Why is being called a “gringo” okay?

Many Americans think the word “gringos” has a negative connotation. In Costa Rica, gringos is not always negative. Gringos represent white foreigners, who are typically Americans. In some countries, yes, being called a gringo is not a positive thing, but due to previous relations with the United States, Costa Rica has no problems. The one time the United States invaded Costa Rica, Costa Rica won thanks to Juan Santamaría who was one of Costa Rica’s first heroes. Since then, the United States and Costa Rica have been strong allies. Even more recently during the oil crisis of 1980, the United States funded Costa Rica when their economy was in turmoil, just for use of the land on the border of Nicaragua to fight their communist party, aiding the complete collapse of Costa Rica’s economic system. Finally, even when Costa Rica has a socialist-type system in place, when they denounced and banned any correlations with Communism, the United States became a stronger ally and aided as much as they can. I think this is important to understand because it is important to understand where words come from and how one word can have multiple meanings in different countries. Understanding the culture and history of a country can reveal a lot about their attitudes, positions, and language so that, when visiting, there is a better sense of how to act and what to expect. Personally, I always thought gringos was bad so coming here and being called it during “cat calls” made me afraid of being targeted, however knowing there is no bad connotation, it makes me feel safer in a sense that it is similar to the same “cat calling” in the United States.

Leave a Reply