Finding Community Among Black Expats in Costa Rica

One sunny December morning on the principle drag of Costa Rica’s Playas del Coco, my buddy Raychelle and I had been on our option to seize a typical breakfast of eggs, cheese, platanos, and gallo pinto (rice and black beans). I’d not too long ago landed from New Orleans, however Ray, as I name her, one other Black American, had been dwelling right here since final March. She crammed me in on how the COVID-19 pandemic has made this often booming seaside city comparatively quiet. We chatted about what fruits had been in season and the place to vary my SIM card till I froze, as one thing jarring caught my consideration. My eyes widened, my nostril scrunched, and my lips pursed. A small however stark Confederate flag was blowing in the wind, connected to a parked bike. I seemed round incredulously and seen an older white man sitting at a desk filled with Ticos (how Costan Ricans proudly discuss with themselves), watching me fully unbothered. I needed to tear the flag off, throw it on the bottom, and stomp on it as he watched. Instead, I shouted—largely to Ray—a number of curse phrases about protecting that rubbish in the United States. My coronary heart sank with one other reminder that journey or dwelling overseas doesn’t present a magical escape from experiencing racism.

For me and plenty of of my pals, travel has been a reprieve from the unyielding assault on the psychological and bodily well being of communities of colour and queer of us. I’m not naive sufficient to assume that white nationalism is merely an American downside, however touring to international locations the place folks of colour are the bulk permits me to loosen up in ways in which I can’t in the United States. While seeing a accomplice flag in Costa Rica was extremely triggering and infuriating, I’ve since discovered solace in a group of Black and Brown girls from the United States dwelling in Guanacaste, a tourist region on the Pacific Coast with gorgeous seashores and huge nationwide parks. These conflicting emotions have been current all through my keep, popping up in varied methods.

pFrom left Jackie Akua Janna A. Zinzi Raychelle Health and Jai Lewis after a hike through Parque Nacional Volcn Tenorio.p

From left: Jackie Akua, Janna A. Zinzi, Raychelle Health, and Jai Lewis after a hike by Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio.

I joined Ray, who I first met in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, after months of following her Instagram posts of hikes by lush forests and highway journeys with different Black girls expats. Another buddy, Jai, got here from New York quickly after, and we obtained to know Ray’s Costa Rica–primarily based group of girls of colour by way of impromptu seaside sundown hangouts, outside cocktail nights, and nationwide park excursions. Four of us reside in the identical constructing, the place we joke about bringing the Black sister-friend antics of ’80s sitcom 227 to our constructing filled with retirees. Hearing why others selected to retire right here full-time, increase youngsters, and purchase property has helped me think about the probabilities and challenges of dwelling exterior of the United States. 

While Black girls’s experiences differ relying on our pores and skin tone or stage of Spanish proficiency, now we have been a group of look after one another, whether or not it’s drunk dancing to Beyoncé on a Friday night time or commiserating after the Capitol rebel again in the States. As a light-skinned biracial Black lady I discover when some expats and locals stare with curiosity at my darker-skinned sisters or query who they’re, their revenue stage, or the place they’re from. In Costa Rica, Ray will get a number of real, non-fetishized appreciation of her locs, and locals are fairly unfazed by Black girls vacationers. Meanwhile, we’re a spectacle to the white North American or European retirees, who stare once we enter institutions as a bunch or name constructing administration to complain about our Sunday afternoon pool celebration with Ticos. Being fluent in Spanish, or no less than making an attempt to speak in the native language, makes it simpler to attach with folks in your neighborhood, patronize native companies, and get recommendations on the place to go exterior of vacationer traps. Yet on the similar time, some companies will prioritize English audio system as a result of they’re more likely to have fascinating American or Canadian {dollars} or Euros.

Feeling protected whereas touring is especially essential proper now in a world the place racists really feel empowered to boldly show their symbols of hatred, and the place, as a solo Black lady traveler minding her personal enterprise, folks typically assume you’re a intercourse employee, a maid, or a legal. In Costa Rica, we take care of being seen as “gringas” as a result of, by definition it means folks from the United States, however as girls of colour we see ourselves in another way than the white Americans round us. It could be painful to observe how privilege reveals up when white Americans are on trip in international locations the place Black and Brown folks reside and work, and to be related to that conduct. It hurts much more to see vacationers of colour from the United States reenact those self same entitled behaviors overseas. I’m grateful to be with of us who don’t wield their id and wealth privilege in a city that relies upon closely on tourism cash. Even as systemic racism and discrimination at residence impedes our high quality of life as Black girls and girls of colour, we nonetheless acknowledge that being from the United States offers us sure entry in a world tourism economic system.

pFrom left Jai Jackie and Raychelle drinking cocktails at Zarpe. p

From left: Jai, Jackie, and Raychelle consuming cocktails at Zarpe. 

We’ve constructed relationships with locals to get out of our North American bubble. Our favourite tour information, Claudio of Clamatours, has not solely taken us to locations exterior of the guidebooks however defined native historical past by offering essential context about the place we reside. We’ve talked concerning the affect of COVID-19 on the tourism business, what it’s like to boost youngsters, and vacationers who need to talk about their love of Trump. I really like having bilingual conversations over espresso or beer with the employees and patrons at Cafe Corazon about native animals, ’90s hip hop, and the struggles of managing curly hair. Learning about our beloved Zarpe bartender’s private journey from biochemist in Nicaragua to mixologist in Costa Rica is what journey is about: breaking down boundaries, acknowledging and decolonizing our entitlement, and appreciating one another’s humanity.

My time in Guanacaste is coming to an in depth. I’m going to deeply miss the camaraderie and sisterhood right here, however I’m headed subsequent to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica for my subsequent three-month journey. Because it’s the place nearly all of Afro-Costa Rican and Indigenous folks reside, together with many Black North American expats, I’m hoping I’m much less more likely to be attacked by white nationalist imagery. I’ve no expectations of any utopia however now know that I can discover the sense of help and security that I would like in these round me. Finding group in Guanacaste was an sudden reward—and it jogged my memory, in three quick months, that regardless of the place I’m on the planet, Black girls are residence.


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