Jairo and I tried to continue our lesson, but we got a little sidetracked. He started teaching me the simple past tense of hablar, the Spanish verb meaning: to speak. "Hablé, hablaste, habló, hablamos, hablaron," I repeated several times. But we couldn't get our minds off the protestors. He explained that he had been a young protestor in Nicaragua during its civil war, and these Costa Rican students evoked many emotional memories. My lesson notes suddenly changed from tenses of hablar to pages and pages of Jairo's words about his experiences as a Nicaraguan youth during the civil war versus his experiences here in Costa Rica.
Costa Ricans take great pride in their peaceful country and its ability to avoid wars, unlike its neighboring Central American countries. Jairo explained to me that "Costa Ricans have always believed that they are peaceful. They've assimilated this information, especially into the schools, and it's easy for politicians to control them." The Costa Rican government and police don't have to worry about violent protest because the people would never think to use forceful tactics. This is very different from the way of life in Jairo's native Nicaragua. He was a protestor there nine years ago. "I didn't want to but I HAD to," he told me. He was a worker at a processing plant for goods that came in and out of the country. One day there was a demonstration at the plant. The police showed up and beat and tear-gassed many of the demonstrators. The police here in San José, Costa Rico were not worried about violence. They actually helped to stop traffic today so that the students could march!
Jairo believes there are three main differences between Costa Rica and his home country of Nicaragua: knowledge of human rights, experience of war, and cultural assimilation.
Jairo on Human Rights...
"However," Jairo continued, "here in Costa Rica, you can sometimes find professionals like doctors and professors. When you ask them what their rights are, they don't know."
Jairo on Experience of War...
Jairo on Cultural Assimilation...
Jairo has visited Guatemala and believes that indigenous Guatemalans have preserved their culture very well. He noticed that in Guatemala City native Quiche, Mam, and Kakchiquel women and men all wear their traditional clothing. "But," he says, "here in Costa Rica, there's only small groups of indigenous people. They've preserved their features, clothing, and food, but their point of view is slowly changing." Jairo thinks that the younger generation, including his own children, have assimilated different points of view and now there really isn't a sense of native, Costa Rican culture.
I explained to Jairo that the same thing has happened in the United States, too. Have you ever heard America called the "melting pot" of the world? This means that many different cultures have mixed in the United States, making it difficult to give an easy definition of American culture and tradition. Do you think this is a bad thing? "Each generation is a product of their government," Jairo said. "There can only be an exchange of information when people have a bigger vision and communicate that to others." He thinks that the people here, especially the students, are starting more and more to analyze politics, to hold public figures accountable, and to take an active part in maintaining their rights. He explains, "I think there's a change in the mentality of the people. Eyes are closed but some eyes are now opening." I encourage you, too, to take an active role in maintaining your rights and the rights of people around the world.
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