Afro-descendants in Costa Rica: a movement for justice and equity

Crime and Justice, Democracy, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Latin America and the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Jan André overcame violence and adversity to become an outstanding university student. Credit: United Nations 2030 Agenda for Costa Rica and the SDGs

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica, January 11, 2022 (IPS) – Jan André is a cheerful and outgoing young man, a superb dancer and an aspiring teacher. Indeed, he wants to become the best teacher in Costa Rica. With his own will and the encouragement of his family, he overcame violence and adversity to become an outstanding college student.

Yet despite his exploits, some people cross the street when they see him coming towards them. They hide their things when he approaches them on the bus. Guards and staff warn him when he walks into a supermarket. The police search him and seize his property even when he is in a crowd in a public space.

Deeply touched by these experiences, Jan André now fights for the rights of people of African descent in Costa Rica.

Inspired by Jan’s work, my colleagues and I decided that the UN had a crucial role to play in collecting and sharing the life stories of Afro-Costa Ricans. The resulting stories are being collected as part of an initiative called “I am of African descent in Costa Rica and this is my story”.

Caption: The cover of the online publication “I am of African descent in Costa Rica and this is my story”. Credit: UN Costa Rica

Published online and in book form, these stories were also designed to celebrate the first International Day for People of African Descent and the bicentenary of Costa Rica’s independence.

With this initiative, we wanted to stop talking about Afro-descendants in the abstract and instead introduce our readers to a variety of women and men, young and old, rural and urban. All as unique individuals who help make Costa Rica what it is today.

What have we learned from these stories?

On the one hand, we were able to reveal the incredible diversity of the Afro-descendant community in Costa Rica, the life stories, struggles and dreams faithful to each of our profiles. On the other hand, however, we identified a shared experience of discrimination and injustice, a common sense of not being “seen” in their own country and a collective strength that flows from families and communities.

It is not for Afro-descendants to “overcome” the discrimination and exclusion of which they are victims. It is up to all of us to eradicate racism and the lingering legacy of slavery.

That is why, in December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution making August 31 the International Day for People of African Descent. The resolution was initiated by the government of Costa Rica, led by its vice president, Epsy Campbell, and garnered support from 52 member states.

With UNFPA as the governing body, we in Costa Rica celebrated the first commemoration of this international day last year.

“The legacy of slavery echoes through the centuries,” UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed reminded us as part of this commemoration. “The world has not yet conquered racism. Equality and justice for all still elude us. Millions of people of African descent continue to experience systematic discrimination, perpetuating inequalities, oppression and marginalization.

When we ensure equal opportunities for all people to realize their potential and the realization of their rights, we create a more just and prosperous society for all of us.

The International Day for People of African Descent is an opportunity to promote the diverse heritage and extraordinary contributions of the African Diaspora. It is also a call to action, a call for all of us to commit ourselves every day throughout the year to build a culture of freedom, inclusion, equity and ever greater opportunities.

Source: United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

Allegra Maria del Pilar Baiocchi is United Nations Coordinator in Costa Rica. Editorial support was provided by Carolina Lorenzo, Office for Development Coordination, and Paul Van DeCarr, Office for Development Coordination. To learn more about the work of the United Nations in Costa Rica, please visit CostaRica.UN.org.

Elna M. Lemons