Could Gringolandia be Good?

Today, an old man named Marvin spoke to us about his life. When he was a young man he lived in Alabama in the United States. After WWII, when a new draft law was created he refused to register  because it was against his Quaker beliefs. Marvin and his community members were sent to prison because of their beliefs, and they quickly decided that they would leave the United States. They decided to go to Costa Rica. After a long journey and an even longer search for a place to farm, they decided to make their new home on a chunk of land in the cloud forest: Monteverde.

North Americans and Europeans have a historically notorious reputation for disrespecting the places and people they meet when traveling and colonizing (just think about African slavery, the Spanish in South America, Native Americans in the United States). I think this bad reputation lies at the heart of the negative attitude towards gringos—and it’s definitely not wrong. North Americans and Europeans have done a lot wrong. But, I believe the migration of people and development cannot be stopped. So, I think there’s a right way to enter a country as a foreigner, and I think the Quakers who came to Monteverde did it the right way.

In my mind, the development of industry (agriculture and tourism) in Costa Rica was bound to happen eventually—and foreigners can often jump start the process. But, there’s a difference between coming in and demanding things to happen for you, and coming in and adjusting to a place with respect. The Quakers did the latter in Monteverde. When they showed up, they already had respect for Costa Rican economy and government. They wanted to become a part of it, not run it like a business. They appreciated the lack of military and the warm climate. They didn’t know Spanish. They didn’t know much about the rainforest. But they were determined and they wanted to work very hard. Marvin talked about how the Costa Rican locals were welcoming. He kind of became the local doctor since there hadn’t been any previously in Costa Rica. Because of this they named many children after Marvin. The locals in turn helped the Quakers adjust. Because they learned and helped the native people, it created mutual respect that really helped the Quakers become Costa Ricans. And, since this respect was established, industry could grow in a welcoming environment.

Most of the industries in Monteverde developed out of necessity or they kind of just happened. Agriculture was how they made an income to survive on when they first founded Monteverde. The Quakers raised cows and made cheese. They did need to clear land—but they also saved much of the rainforest to have a source of water. Ecotourism came about because there was an interest in preserving biodiversity in the rainforests and observing nature by both the people who lived in Monteverde and tourists. Then, ecotourism snowballed as more hotels found their way into the mountains. I think that industry and development is a good thing as long as one is appreciating, respecting, and preserving the original people and culture, and nature that exist. Monteverde was an excellent example of industry developing the right way.

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