Afro-descendants Heritage Month
Today's topic is a very personal one, in August we celebrate the Afro-descendants Heritage Month and the last day is dedicated to black people and Afro Costa Ricans. Before COVID there were parades and activities that
Today’s topic is a very personal one, in August we celebrate the Afro-descendants Heritage Month and the last day is dedicated to black people and Afro Costa Ricans. Before COVID there were parades and activities that you could attend everywhere, this year the events were online but there are a few more that you can join and we have the details for you.
Growing up black in Costa Rica and living my life as an Afro Latina has been a challenge, I am not going to sugar coat it, I think most of us go through similar experiences regardless of the country we were born because racism is everywhere. I can still hear my classmates in middle school calling me all kinds of offensive names, but I wish they were just memories from the past.
I have experienced racism at work as well, there is just no safe place for us. Many years ago I was covering a sports event and a very famous Sports Commentator (whom I never met before that day) decided that he could call me negrita. I know this is common sense for most people, but I will say it louder for the people in the back: being called by their skin color is not a term of endearment. The same goes for not touching my hair, and in any case the best option is not to assume anything either.
Costa Rica is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural paradise, we are so much more than just beautiful beaches and green forests. I like to say that we have the privilege of being the living proof of heritage and nationality being two separate characteristics. I say heritage because there is only one race: humans. In the end, Afro Costa Ricans will always be proud of our culture.
Learning some history
Among the many misconceptions there are about black Costa Ricans, there is a lot of confusion regarding how we arrived here.. First of all, the Caribbean of the country was already populated by indigenous Bribris and Cabécares in the mountains of Talamanca before the colonization. Then, with the arrival of Columbus in 1502, the colonizers brought settlers from Jamaica, Asians, Chinese, Italians, and other populations.
Most people think that the first black populations settled in Costa Rica later than that but no, it was actually when the Europeans enslaved indigenous people they decided to bring people from Africa too, to do forced work for them.
It was normal for them to divide people by their skin color, for example “pardos” and “mulatos” (derogatory terms for biracial people) were isolated and when they started having children, those kids were the first Afro Costa Ricans and they were all over the country, the history books mention Alajuela, Cartago and other regions.
Hundreds of years later, in 1872-, workers from Jamaica and other Afro-Caribbean islands came to Costa Rica to build the railroad in Limón, some of them never left. This is why today a third of the population of Limón is Afro-Costa Rican, but we already know that not all Afro-Costa Ricans are from Limón, we are everywhere.
Back to the present
According to official statistics, 8% of Costa Ricans are Afro-descendants, but those numbers should be updated and the government is supposed to be working on it. Unfortunately, Afro Costa Rican areas traditionally receive much less investment than the rest of the country. For example, Limón is ranked as the second most disadvantaged province in the country after Puntarenas.
At the same time, the Caribbean side of the country has many popular spots that are famous around the world. Both local and international tourists love places such as Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, and the list goes on. Afro-Costa Rican cuisine should be the eight wonder of the world, but our talent goes beyond.
You should listen to our very own Calypso singer, Walter Ferguson; and read Quince Duncan’s books. Duncan has received awards such as Premio Nacional de Literatura and Premio Editorial Costa Rica (Literature accolades), he is also the First Presidential Commissioner for Afro-Costa Rican Community Affairs. We can’t forget when in 2018 Epsy Campbell became the first Black Vice President of the country, and the first one in Latin America as well.
The list goes on and on, just yesterday Sherman Guity won Costa Rica first-ever Paralympic medal. What a time to be alive, to be able to see fellow Afro-descendants succeed in life reminds me of why representation matters. Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion is an investment and we, Afro-descendants, are in this journey together. Costa Rica has been a champion-country when trying to combat all forms of racism and racial discrimination
Timeline of the celebration
Costa Rica decreed August 31st for the celebration of “Black Day” back in the eighties. Then along came the second decree, that expanded the celebration as the “Day of Black People and Afro-Costa Rican Culture.” In April 26 of 2018, the Law N ° 9526 was published in La Gaceta (the official newspaper), declaring August the Historic Month of Afro-descendants in the country.
Fast-forward to August 2021, and there is a record amount of good news and eventsadvocating for racial justice and knowledge. The government organized more than 120 activities between online webinars and on-site affairs. Numerous private organizations and companies also held their own celebrations.
International Day for People of African Descent
In 2020 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution presented by Costa Rica with the support of 52 other countries, to proclaim August 31 as the International Day for People of African Descent. Last week, Costa Rica was announced as the global host to inaugurate the commemoration of this day.
San José and Cahuita (in Limón) were the locations chosen for the conferences, artistic and cultural forums that start today Tuesday, August 31st and end on Saturday, September 4th. We will be present at the Press Conference today at 4:00pm for the presentation of activities and High Level Forum: Reaffirming commitments made for the recognition, justice, and development of people of African descent, organized by the government and the United Nations Population Fund.
“Acciones afirmativas a favor de las personas afrodescendientes” signed August 10, 2021. The following is the statement sent by the Legislator that promoted the law.
We celebrate the entry into force of the Law of affirmative actions in favor of Afro-descendant people (No. 10.001), as it will mark a before and after in Costa Rica, in terms of Human Rights, to reduce the social gaps between the Afro-descendant population and the other ethnic groups; in compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, signed by our nation since 1966.
The legal norm consists of seven articles and, declares of national interest the elaboration, implementation and disclosure of affirmative actions in favor of the Afro-descendant people of Costa Rica; at the same time it becomes an instrument to enable certain spaces for participation to Afro-Costa Ricans in areas such as education, culture, employment, programs for Afro-descendant women; all of these as paths of an effective improvement in the condition of that population and urgent in the effective fight against racism, ethnophobia and discrimination.
These affirmative actions would be applied for a period of ten years, in order to measure the results and develop new actions according to such results.
This law seeks to comply with part of the supra-constitutionally protected commitment to incorporate concrete affirmative actions to combat discrimination and racial inequality, which are recognized in all international instruments of the universal Human Rights system. These affirmative actions and legislative measures were endorsed by the Constitutional Chamber of Costa Rica, under the Law of the Constitution, and with International Human Rights Law.
Written by Engineer David Gourzong Cerdas | Legislator of the Republic of Costa Rica.
August 31st will be a National Holiday. Proposed by Eduardo Cruickshank Smith, first Afro-Costa Rican to preside over Legislative Assembly, and endorsed by the rest of Legislators on August 25, 2021. About the law Cruickshank said “… it is a necessary recognition and responds to a wide clamor of Limon’s population with the purpose of consolidating the celebration of the Day of the Black Person and allowing a broad participation of all the inhabitants of the country in the activities that are carried out around this date.”
It has not been signed by Costa Rica’s President yet, the goal is that for the next 3 years the Holiday would fall on a Sunday that way it can help “reactivate” the economy in the Caribbean province.
Support Afro-Costa Rican organizations
Outliers stand out from the people that surround us, but at the same time our mission is to support those fighting the good fight. There are many organizations in Costa Rica that you can follow, this one is just an example:
Red de Profesionales Afro en Costa Rica
In Spanish Network of Afro Professionals in Costa Rica, their mission is to develop and strengthen a strong network of black leaders in Costa Rica, while providing opportunities and connections to individuals and companies that choose to join REDAFROCR under the guiding principle of “together we achieve more”.
On the other hand, their goal is to develop leaders who drive innovation in Costa Rica and around the world. Their vision is to create an inclusive community in Costa Rica that will serve and develop 1,000 black professionals by the year 2025.
Multinational companies such as Amazon, Mckinsey, Microsoft, and others, already joined REDAFROCR. The Executive Board, leaders, and volunteers are already making progress in the Mentorship and Internship Programs, commercial alliances and more. If you would like to know more visit their website and/or Social Media.
I want to think that this is not just another article about Afro-celebrations, instead being at the forefront of these discussions and raising awareness, will help promote the fact that Afro-descendants in Costa Rica are an essential part of the country’s history.