This can be a touchy topic for a lot of people. There is a lot of talk about it in the US, so I thought I would let you know what it is like down here based on my experiences. Now, when people look at me they think I am a local. I have natural black hair, brown eyes, and a natural tan. I don’t like a normal white girl at all. But I have seen and heard things that make people wonder and question how race is perceived here.
Racism does happen, there is no denying it, it happens everywhere in the world. I have friends here who don’t like black people, they let me know that. We were riding in a taxi one day and our friend was driving, we saw a black guy walking down the street and his reaction was, “Ugh, negro.” You could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t a good thing.
The culture down here can be a little different also when it comes to referring to someone by their race. I spent 6 days in the hospital here and had a few black nurses there. There was this one nurse who was black, extremely nice, and a wonderful nurse, but the other nurses would just call her, “Negrita.” I guess if I tried to translate it to what they meant it would mean something along the lines of little black girl. (Negrita is just little black.) But they didn’t mean it to be anything bad, they were just calling for her. If it bothered her she didn’t show it or let them know.
Now, if you go the east side of the country, you have a huge Caribbean influence. There you will see more people of African decent. The food can be different, the music, the whole atmosphere is different. It is almost like going to another country. If it wasn’t for everyone speaking Spanish you could forget that you are in Costa Rica and think you were on an island.
Now when it comes to racism against Gringos. Gringo is not a derogatory term here either, it is just their way of saying either North American or European. Again, I haven’t experienced this because I blend in. My husband has a little but not much. His biggest problem here is that he is half deaf and has had a very difficult time trying to learn Spanish. We have tried many programs for him to learn but he just can’t hear them well enough. Usually once I tell people that he has tried and that he has hearing problems, they are pretty cool with him. A lot of people here think that just because you are from the US or Europe it means you have money. I know we don’t have a lot of money. So some places will try to Gringo price you. Always take a local with you if you are unsure about the price on something. The most this happens is when it comes to buying property or land. Shop around. The real estate market here is all sorts of jacked up. I have seen nice homes sell for very little and complete dumps listed for an outrageous amount. From my experience most people don’t mind Gringos, they like us to spend our money here for one thing and I can’t blame them; it’s good for business. But there are always a few that will not welcome us, that is to be expected anywhere though. In my town, we are part of the community, they know us, and they like us. We treat them with respect and they do the same in return.
Asian people. If you are from anywhere in Asia, or have an Asian background, you will be called Chinese. Don’t take offense to this. When they look at you and say Chino or China, it is their way of saying Asian. It doesn’t matter if you are from Thailand or Cambodia, they will call you Chinese. It doesn’t matter how many times you try to correct them either. You will only frustrate yourself. Just go with it.
I haven’t heard of anything bad happening just because of race. No shootings, murders, muggings, just because someone is a different color. But if you are pale you are more likely to get pulled over by the police. So, all in all it’s not so bad when it comes to race. If anything I think the tensions are less here than in the US, but we still have a long ways to go yet. Just give people a chance, smile, be polite, and don’t take offense. Until manaña, Pura Vida!