Well, this is embarrassing. I started writing this blog post three weeks ago while still in the US on vacation. I’ve been so busy with teams in the last few weeks that I am just now getting around to catching up the blog. Today is a holiday here in Costa Rica, something about the annexation of Guanacaste. If it gives me a day off, I’m OK with it!
I must say, while I love the US dearly and feel extremely blessed to have been born there, I think one of the most worthwhile experiences of my entire life has been living abroad. It’s a sad fact that most Americans don’t know what the rest of the world is like. Doesn’t that feel a bit naive? Or worse, ignorant? Devastating? Tragic? I could just go on and on but I’ll stop with “all of the above.” It sure is hard to hear things in the news and form opinions on what’s happening in the world when you have no idea what it’s really like outside of the United States of America. I hardly say any of these things to put myself in some self-cast all-knowing position above everyone else. Without even trying, my eyes have been opened to so many things in the last year. Things that I previously had an opinion on that I probably wasn’t even slightly qualified or educated enough about to have. Most recently, someone asked us if we had changed our view on immigration. I will preface this by saying we couldn’t be more opposite on so many of our political views, yet somehow, I found myself pondering the question that had been asked. There are some questions or statements that people pose that I think we’d just as soon not have come up. Things we’d rather not be forced to think about. But the question is in fact a valid one. After a year of working in a community of primarily Nicaraguans, some legal and some not so legal, what do I now think of immigration? I don’t exactly have an exact, black and white answer for you. I’ve somewhat entered into this very interesting shade of gray that if I had to put words to, would probably say it depends…
I liken the situation here in Bajo Tejares, as well as Costa Rica in general, to similar happenings in the US with Mexicans. At one time, I think most people probably thought it was a good idea to welcome the Nicaraguans as cheap labor and an asset to the economy and country of Costa Rica. Somewhere along the way, it shifted to more of a burden and didn’t work out like everyone had hoped. The Nicaraguans are without a doubt looked down upon here. They are second class citizens and the attitudes of true Costa Ricans reflect that. Every time a volunteer or group comes to the mission, I find myself giving the same spiel to them about the community and the residents. What I find myself saying by the end of it is, I don’t really care what your views on immigration are, these are human lives we are talking about. I like the Declaration of Independence and the language that is used in it.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I think somewhere along the way, one of two things happened. It’s quite possible that people stopped believing that all men are created equal. Or it’s possible that we’ve become so far displaced from the situation that it’s no longer real to us. I never once had any connection to any kind of immigration issue in the US. My grandparents and father are immigrants from the Ukraine. They came over legally and followed all the proper procedures to become citizens of the United States. But they were very lucky in have support to do so. Until moving here, I’ve never met an illegal immigrant. Now, I’m undoubtedly surround by illegal immigrants. It’s hard for me to see it that way though. What I see are the children here that I love. I see their parents who would do whatever it takes to give their children a better life than what they had growing up. I see people that would risk it all to give their family a chance.
I had no idea what it took to become a legal resident of Costa Rica before moving here. After all, I leave every 90 days and remain on a tourist visa. But after discussing the process with many people at this point, I now understand it can be a real nightmare. A real, expensive nightmare. I think most people just get stuck. They came to Costa Rica for a better life than what they had or could have in Nicaragua. They are doing the best they can here but can still rarely provide enough for their family. How do you save up for everything you need to get a piece of paper that says you can legally live here and put food on the table for your children? Since you have no idea how to manage all of that, you can now spend your days living in fear that you’ll be deported.
This living abroad deal has taught me a lot. I’ve had to rethink several things that I thought I knew. As I said, I still don’t have an answer to this particular issue. I do know that when it becomes personal, it changes that black and white answer real quick. I can no longer give an outright opinion on it without thinking of the friends I have here that struggle with this personally. I’m too invested. What I can stand by is that everyone is born with certain unalienable rights, given to us by the One who gives life. I believe in those rights.