Friday, September 30, 2016

Limón Trip

 Sunrise, Isla Uvita 
One of the highlights of our program each semester is a study trip to the Limón Province. This is an excellent opportunity for students to take their learning to the streets (and to the pineapple fields) and make Costa Rica their learning laboratory! Limón is Costa Rica’s most diverse province, but it is rife with social and economic challenges. Here are a couple of student reflections from our trip to Limón two weeks ago:

“We are never meant to feel comfortable in this world because this world is not our home” (Pastor of Limón Methodist Temple, personal communication, September 8, 2016). This semester thus far, especially the Limón trip, has made me so uncomfortable in a world that I’ve always called my home. My beliefs about this place I’ve called home have been challenged in almost every way possible. Looking back on my life prior to this trip I feel ashamed of my ignorance and of the lack of effort I made in getting to know the faces behind the statistics.
Our weekend spent in Limón opened my eyes to some of the discrimination and injustices that are present there today. By looking at the history of Limón and conducting interviews with a wide variety of people, one is able to find that the main problems Limón faces today are lack of employment and drugs caused by prejudices and lack of government involvement. There is not necessarily one correct solution because of the complexity of these problems, but by following Christ’s example and having an increase in good government involvement, these problems would rapidly diminish.
Emma, Bethel College 

The streets of Limón Centro 
A small, young family made up my second interview. A father and mother with their young son also said that drugs were the greatest problem of Limón. They were able to further explain their beliefs as this problem being a consequence of the lack of employment. Another man in his late-40’s believed that the greatest problem was unemployment. The cause of this, as he stated, was due to lack of business and investment in the city; therefore, creating a scarcity of jobs. Everyone was also asked about the recent investment of the Holland APM Terminal, which seems to be the light of the future for Limón. Every person said it would benefit Limón by bringing in more jobs. Not one had taken into account the possibility of this new investment increasing the inequality gap between locals and investors of new business. No critical examination was taken into consideration.
Proper awareness and understanding of Limón’s history, commerce, economic activity, and social issues will provide the people with the ability to assess their current situation. Awareness and understanding of the past and present will make it possible for them to understand where they want to go and their current direction.
Vanessa Northwest University 

Class with an indigenous leader, Gloria
It is sad that Límón is the perfect example of a workers’ paradox where there are many people willing to work, but no jobs to be had, because the jobs that could be had are in suspension due to poor management and fragmented government agencies.  But it is a reality of which many people live; like Erin Granados, an unemployed limonense living in Limón Centro.
Originally from the town of Barra del Parismina in northern Limón, Erin Granados of whom the average person would see as a poor old homeless man, told us in an interview, that “[he had] … worked for many years on the banana plantations, but now there is no more work to be had [referring to his old age and the increased competitiveness of the low wage plantation jobs with other Costa Ricans and immigrants]” (Erin Granados, 09/17/2016). 
Drew Milligan College 

The Port of Limón 
“Dejé la escuela en quinto grado. Tengo dieciséis años. No necesito la educación para trabajar.” Estas son las palabras de Luis, un muchacho que le conocimos durante nuestro viaje a Limón. Él se sentaba en su tricíclica en una esquina de un área muy ocupada. Luis estaba vendiendo el agua de coco por 350 mil colones. Dieciséis años.
Nosotros leímos sobre las circunstancias de Limón en cuanto a los problemas económicos y sociales. Habíamos escuchado una charla que describió las percepciones falsas de la provincia. Pensé que yo sabía lo que anticipar. Pero ninguna cantidad de educación de aula puede prepararse para experimentar la emoción profunda de conocer una persona que ha sufrido de los efectos de los hechos estudiados de nuestro texto.
Alexa Wheaton College 

In the banana fields
The conditions of blacks leading up to the 21st century has led to the current state of Limón as a disadvantaged province. Previous and current acts of seclusion have created an environment of underdevelopment and limited job opportunity for Limonenses.  As mentioned by most inland Ticos, “drugas” and “trabajo” are the greatest problems for Limonenses (Host family & Pipasa Store owner, personal communication). However, they fail to acknowledge the historical context of which the province is coming from.  On the other hand, Limonenses and those who are more informed about the province acknowledge the racialized history and previous categorization of the people as some distant other. The overt discrimination in the locality and in job opportunities has kept blacks from excelling, but now extends to the region as a whole. It is undeniable that drugs and its trafficking has crippled this community, but both Limonenses and other Costaricenses agree that this problem is rooted in unemployment (personal communication). With the scarcity of jobs, the drug market is presented as the only option. As it was in the past where job options for blacks were confined to education and health care for discriminatory reasons, it appears that today people feel dependent on industry for job security. Yet, there are limited industry jobs. Marvin, a black older gentleman, complained that they need more factories so that his sons and grandson’s would have work. He elaborated, saying that technology is taking over the factory jobs that they once had. Then, he gave the example of one port factory that downsized from 2700 to 400 workers: all because of technological advances (Marvin, personal communication, September, 16, 2016). 
MaLaysia Wheaton College 

White faced Capuchin at the beach 
We are so proud of our students critically engaging the people in Limón with open and loving hearts to learn about the people and their experience of the region. We rewarded ourselves by taking some time to relax and enjoy the beach and the beautiful wildlife!

Monday, September 5, 2016

First Semester Blog, Fall 2016, by Hannah Gross

Latin American Studies Program, Fall 2016

I have arrived and am now enjoying what will become the new normal for me here in Costa Rica. The Latin America Studies Program students all met together for the first time Tuesday night. Wednesday we had orientation and moved in with our host families!

My family is absolutely wonderful and they’ve adopted me in without any hesitation. Just like in the US I have two sisters here – Andrea and Victoria – as well as my Papa Tico, Marvin, and my Mama Tica, Xinia. The first night we went around the neighborhood meeting their family and at the end of the evening my Mama looked at me and said, “Eres Hannah Montero Barboza.”
Hearing her last name with my name has been so symbolic of my experience with my family thus far – I’m part of the family. Between the family meals, cafecitos, walks around the neighborhood, and evenings by the TV they’ve given me more than I can ask for. I’m learning what “Montero Barboza’s do,” like whistle loudly as you approach the house to be let in or link arms as you walk down the street because her family is always known for being together. I feel so special to be included in such a joyful, loving home.

Now simply because my family is wonderful has not meant a perfectly smooth transition by any means. Costa Rica is different from any place I’ve been before. I love difference theoretically but sitting in it takes some getting used to. Here’s my favorite story that epitomizes my attempts and failures, yet joy in being here:

It was Thursday afternoon. I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed and my go-to stress relief is running, so Victoria and I dressed and headed out to the neighborhood. Contrary to the popular notion that Costa Rica is sunny 24/7, it actually rains every afternoon/evening here; but the rain had already stopped. As we started running it began to sprinkle a little bit, and then a little harder, but we figured it was just a passing drizzle. It poured. It started raining so hard that we couldn’t run without falling and our 30-minute run turned into an hour-long walk in a torrential downpour. Victoria and I returned sopping wet with puddles in our shoes to my Mama Tica waiting at the door smiling with towels but quickly shooing us directly to the shower. We still get quite a number of laughs from this story, but it’s so characteristic of me. I try to do life exactly how I’ve always known, but here in San Jose, and it just doesn’t work out. But hey, now I understand the golden rule: “Siempre tenga una sombrilla.” Translation: Always carry an umbrella.

I’m sure as the days unfold I’ll have even more stories of blunders I make, Spanish words I butcher, and cultural practices I misunderstand, but I want to believe trying and failing is much better than never having stepped outside my realm of comfort. It also helps that I live with four patient teachers that never seem wearied from my questions or bizarre habits.

 Hannah Gross, Wheaton College