Today, we had a lecture about Costa Rican history dating all the way back to before Costa Rica was its own country in 1839. We learned everything from how the country gained its independence to what has happened in Costa Rica the past couple years.
I came into the discussion with a couple questions regarding Costa Rican history and culture. First, I know the word gringo was used a lot here in Costa Rica, but in some other places, it is seen as a derogatory term. This was something that was answered in our discussion without a question needing to be asked about it. In 1856, the United States invaded Costa Rica, but the Costa Ricans won the war. Now, the United States and Costa Rica are allies. There hasn’t been any turmoil between the USA and Costa Rica, and for this reason, gringo does not have a bad connotation around Costa Ricans. This is an answer I did not expect, as I almost figured that there would not be any good reasoning around this. After hearing this answer, I guess it does make sense that a word referring to Americans isn’t bad here since they have nothing bad to say about us.
Second, when we learned all about Costa Rica in the presentations in our pre-departure meeting, the date September 15th, 1821 was mentioned as the day they celebrate as their Independence Day. However, I later learned that Costa Rica officially gained their independence on August 29th, 1839. For some reason, this date is not celebrated at all. I was very curious why they decided to use a day completely different from the day they gained their independence. This question was also answered in our discussion, as all Central American countries celebrate their collective independence together on September 15th. It’s kind of cool that this whole region comes together to celebrate when they collectively gained their independence, but I also think it is a little odd that they do not care about the date when they gained their own independence and became a country for the first time. As a US citizen, it is a little hard to grasp this concept because July 4th is a huge deal for us.
Finally, I was a little curious about the religion situation in Costa Rica. I knew Catholicism was the official religion, church and state are not separated, and the large majority of Costa Ricans are Catholic, or at least some type of Christian. However, none of this seemed very obvious when taking our original tour around Heredia. I did not see to many buildings or signs heavily influenced by Catholicism. This was one of the first thing addressed in our discussion. We were told there is a surprisingly large Jewish influence, simply because the Costa Ricans like the way some of the Jewish buildings and symbols look, even though only about 1% of Costa Ricans are Jewish. This is something that is also quite appalling to me because not many countries still have church and state combined, so you would think the ones that do would have a lot of pride in their religion.
One cultural contradiction that confused me also had to do with their independence. We were told that Costa Rica was in no rush to gain their independence, as they were comfortable being a part of Central America. Today, it seems like Costa Ricans are very proud to be Costa Ricans, as they value a strong sense of culture and nationalism. There is some gap in between these years that was not addressed in terms of how Costa Ricans eventually developed such strong feelings of nationalism. This is something I may have to dig deeper into to find the answer.
Today’s discussion was a great opportunity to learn more about where we are. Many of my questions were answered, but other questions were uncovered, which will lead to even more opportunities to learn about Costa Rica.