Costa Rican Americans

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Author: Cida S. Chase
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
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Costa Rican Americans

Cida S. Chase


Costa Rican Americans are immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, from the Central American nation of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is located in the southern end of Central America, bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the south by Panama. Its terrain is rugged and divided from north to south by a central mountain range that separates the eastern and western coastal plains. Slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia, Costa Rica has an area of 19,652 square miles (51,032 square kilometers).

According to a December 2011 census conducted by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (National Institute of Statistics and Census), the Costa Rican population was roughly 4.3 million. In 2008 the U.S. State Department—in its International Religious Freedom Report—cited a 2007 survey conducted at the University of Costa Rica when stating that 44.9 percent of Costa Ricans identify themselves as practicing Roman Catholics, 25.6 percent as nonpracticing Roman Catholics, 13.8 percent as evangelical Protestants, 11.3 percent as unaffiliated, and 4.3 percent declare “another religion.” Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, and other Protestant groups have the most significant memberships outside the Catholic Church, but Costa Rican membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is growing rapidly, numbering 35,000 as of the 2007 survey. According to the Instituto's 2011 survey, 96 percent of the total population is of European ancestry, including mestizos (a Spanish word for Latin Americans of mixed European and native heritage), while roughly 2.5 percent of the population is of Native American descent and 1 percent of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Although the International Monetary Fund estimated Costa Rica's nominal gross domestic product at only $55 billion in 2011, the country consistently rates among the top Central and South American nations in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index—ranking sixty-ninth in the world in 2011.

Because Costa Ricans reside in one of Latin America's most economically and politically stable states, they have not immigrated to the United States in significant waves. As such, it is difficult to pinpoint their earliest migrations. As with other Latin immigrant populations, however, Costa Ricans have tended to settle in major cities—the largest populations being in New York City and Los Angeles. Since the establishment of the modern Costa Rican democracy in 1949, Costa Rican immigrants to the United States have come mostly for higher education, research opportunities, or professional employment, often bringing their spouses and children with them. Into the twenty-first century, Costa Rica has consistently had one of the lowest rates of immigration to the United States among Latin American nations.

The 2010 U.S. Census placed the number of Americans of Costa Rican descent at 126,418—roughly equal to the total population of Hartford, Connecticut, or one-fifth the population of Boston. Costa Rican immigrants tend to assimilate into American society more quickly and easily than many other Latin American immigrant groups.


Early History Europeans first set foot in Costa Rica in 1502, when Christopher Columbus arrived during his fourth and last voyage to the New World. Formal settlement of the territory began in 1522, and for three hundred years the Spanish administered it under a military governor as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala.

Costa Rica acquired its name when the Spanish, expecting to find an abundance of gold, named it El Costa Rica, “the Rich Coast.” However, as there was little gold and few other valuable minerals in the area, the new settlers turned to agriculture for survival. Moreover, as the indigenous population was rather small, the Spanish were unable to establish an extensive forced-labor system. Consequently, Costa Rica developed differently from other Latin American nations. Its small landowners' modest standard of living, its people's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and its isolation from the large colonial centers of Mexico and South America produced a rather independent, individualist, agrarian society.

Costa Rica obtained its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821, without bloodshed, after joining other Central American provinces (most of whom had secured independence through armed conflict) in an 1821 joint declaration of independence Page 544  |  Top of Articlefrom Spain. These newly created nations formed a confederation, which border disputes soon dissolved. Costa Rica acquired Guanacaste, its northernmost province, from Nicaragua after one of these border disputes. Since 1838, when it declared itself a sovereign nation, Costa Rica has enjoyed an independent existence, which it has zealously maintained. In 1856 the country was invaded by 240 filibusters, commanded by American lawyer and journalist William Walker, who had decided to conquer Central America on his own accord, declaring himself president of Nicaragua immediately upon landing. Costa Ricans promptly took up arms to defend their territory, and Juan Santamaría emerged as a Costa Rican national hero when he burned down the filibusters' headquarters in Santa Rosa.

Modern Era Costa Rica's egalitarian traditions have persisted throughout its history. Even though the introduction of banana and coffee plantations in the nineteenth century gave rise to a small oligarchy, Costa Rica has been able to maintain a strong middle class that sustains the nation's democratic ideals. The modern era of democracy in Costa Rica began after the elections of 1889, which are considered the first free elections in the country's history. This democratic tradition has experienced problems only twice: once in 1917–1918, when Federico Tinoco declared his government a dictatorship, and again in 1948, when a disputed election caused a civil war in which more than two thousand people lost their lives. After the civil war, a junta drafted a new constitution that guaranteed free elections with universal suffrage and abolished the national army. In 1948 José Figueres, who emerged as a hero during the civil war, became the first president under the new constitution.

The most prominent Costa Rican of the modern era is arguably Oscar Arias Sánchez, who was president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990, a significantly troublesome time in Central America, with unrest in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama. Although Costa Rica enjoyed peace within its borders, it was not insulated from these regional conflicts. Instability in neighboring countries at this time impacted Costa Rica's tourism and foreign investment markets and brought a flood of refugees, particularly from Nicaragua and El Salvador.

In 1987 President Sánchez designed a regional peace plan—the Esquipulas Process—which became the basis for the peace agreement signed by the presidents of most of the other Central American nations. This peace plan brought about free and open elections in Nicaragua and the subsequent end of the civil war in that country. Sánchez's peace accomplishments in the region earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. He used the prize money to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, which maintains three sources of funding: the Center for Human Progress, which funds programs for the advancement of women; the Center for Peace and Reconciliation, which works for Central American conflict resolution and prevention programs; and the Center for Philanthropy, which promotes the participation of nonprofit organizations in the building of just and peaceful Central American societies.

The nation saw its first hints of trouble in more than half a century when, in 2004, two former presidents—Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990–1994) and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998–2002)—were incarcerated on charges of corruption while in office. Calderón was found guilty of accepting money from a Finnish financial firm in exchange for the promise of Costa Rican governmental contracts and was sentenced to five years in prison on October 5, 2009, forcing him to resign his candidacy in the 2010 presidential election. Rodríguez was found guilty of accepting money from a Taiwanese financial firm (it was unknown what promises were made in exchange) and sentenced to five years in prison on April 27, 2011, although an appeals court reversed that decision in December 2012.


Costa Ricans who have immigrated to and settled in the United States do not exhibit the same characteristics as many other Hispanic groups inasmuch as they did not have to flee their country as political or economic refugees. Consequently, there have never been significant waves of Costa Rican immigrants; nor, as U.S. immigration records show, have very many Costa Ricans tried to enter the country illegally.

Costa Ricans who did immigrate to the United States included those who had married Americans and raised their families in the United States, those who were hired to work in the United States after completing a degree at an American university, those who came seeking research opportunities that were not readily available at home, or those who believed they would find more success in various jobs and trades in the United States.

Fewer than 70,000 Costa Ricans are estimated to have immigrated to the United States since 1931. Hence, the number of Costa Rican immigrants has been increasing at an extremely slow rate, which is significantly different from the pattern of immigration to the United States from most other Central American countries. The only other countries in this region that show a consistently slow rate of immigration are Belize and Panama.

Costa Rican immigrants have tended to establish residence in California, Florida, Texas, and the New York City metropolitan area. These geographical preferences, evident in U.S. immigration statistics, are consistent with the results of the 2010 U.S. Census. The latter reports the largest concentration of Costa Rican Americans to be in the New York City area, including parts of Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island

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CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED U.S. Census Bureau, 2006–2010 American Community Survey

(27,394). The next-largest group is located along the southeastern coast of Florida in the Miami, Hialeah, and Fort Lauderdale areas (11,528). The third-largest group is in Los Angeles and its environs (11,371).


Costa Ricans are sometimes called ticos because they tend to append their own distinct suffix, “-tico,” to create the diminutive form of a word as opposed to the traditional Spanish diminutive “-ito.” For example, chico (meaning “small”) in the traditional Spanish diminutive is chiquito, whereas Costa Ricans use the term chiquitico—both meaning “very small.” The Costa Rican word chirrisco or chirrisca also means “very small,” but many people, dissatisfied with conveying the idea of just “very small,” add the suffix “-tico” or “-tica,” making the word chirrisquitico or chirrisquitica—meaning “extremely small.”

Distinguishing itself from standard Spanish even further, Costa Rican idiom exhibits a regional characteristic (common also in other Central American countries) known as el voseo, which is also found in the southern parts of South America. El voseo is the use of vos instead of as the familiar second-person singular form of address. Speakers adjust their verb tenses to agree with the form vos, as in “Vos vivís en los Estados Unidos” (You live in the United States)—rather than “Tú vives en los Estados Unidos,” as is customary in most of the Spanish-speaking world. Although this form is more prominent in the spoken language, increasingly more Costa Rican writers are using it as well. Costa Rican Americans are likely to drop the use of el voseo as they interact with Hispanics of other origins, and as they attempt to conform to the classroom standards of Spanish courses in the United States, which typically neglect this regional idiom.

Costa Rican Spanish is also marked by a softly pronounced double r, which means that the prominently trilled initial r or rr of the Spanish language is missing in the pronunciation of most Costa Ricans. Costa Ricans generally are nonetheless careful speakers of Spanish. They pronounce distinctly all the letters in the words and sound out a final “s,” which is not always the case in the speech of other regions of Latin America, as well as of southern Spain.

As with many Latin American nations, indigenous languages have enriched Costa Rican Spanish with a number of distinctive words. Words ending in “-ate,” “-te,” and “-tle”—zacate (grass), mecate (rope), chayote (a type of squash), quelite (tender ends of the chayote vine), and tepeizcuinte or tepeizcuitle (paca, or spotted cavy, a rodent somewhat larger than a rabbit)—have entered the everyday speech of the people. Although this type of vocabulary is not as abundant in Costa Rica as it is in other Central American countries and Mexico, its presence in Costa Rica stands as a trace of the country's indigenous past.

Costa Rican immigrants to the United States often learn the English language early on, especially if Page 546  |  Top of Articlethey join a local church or have children in the public school system. For second and third generations, if both parents speak Spanish, the children are likely to be raised to be bilingual. However, if only one parent speaks Spanish, the children are more likely to grow up speaking only English.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Jale—Let's go; Qué tiene?—What's the matter?; Si Dios quiere—If God wills; Ojalá—If only; God grant; Mae (or maje)—Dude or man; Una teja—A hundred (of anything); Cada muerte de obispo—Literally, “every death of a bishop,” roughly equivalent to “once in a blue moon”; La dejó el tren—Literally, “the train left her,” said of a woman who has never married.


Roman Catholicism is the official, traditional, and dominant religion in Costa Rica. After the government, the Catholic Church is the most powerful institution in the country. Monsignor Sanabria, the archbishop of San José (Costa Rica's capital city) in the 1940s, organized and strengthened the modern church, guiding it toward social activism. His work promoted the foundation of church-oriented social organizations such as Catholic Action, the Young Catholic Workers, and a labor union called the Rerum Novarum (after an encyclical, or formal letter, of Pope Leo XIII on labor). This religious social orientation was weakened somewhat during the 1950s when the Partido Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party), characterized by its conservatism, dominated the political arena and frowned on liberal social organizations.

Although they have great respect for the church, most Costa Ricans, especially those belonging to the middle class, maintain an independent, personal attitude toward church policies in regard to sensitive issues such as birth control and abortion. Political analyst Tom Barry, in his book Costa Rica: A Country Guide, describes this personal attitude, explaining that “Catholics in Costa Rica are eclectic believers, whose most fervent expressions of faith are evoked during Holy Week and at the baptism, marriage, or death of family members. Over 80 percent of Costa Rican Catholics do not attend mass regularly.”

This characterization is equally true of Costa Rican immigrants to the United States, who tend to maintain the religious practices of their childhood. They look for a church in which they feel welcome, and if a church offers services in Spanish, they will worship with members of other Hispanic communities.


Due to a set of distinct historical realities—such as the absence of a war for independence or a prolonged revolutionary period—the politics of identity, race, and ethnicity play different roles in the lives of Costa Ricans, both in their home country and in the United States, than they do for other Latin American groups. Perhaps as a result of this dynamic, they seem to acculturate and assimilate more rapidly into mainstream American culture than do many of their Latin American counterparts.

They normally do not form communities, or barrios, as is often the case with Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and other Central American immigrants. Instead, Costa Ricans tend to disappear into the English-speaking multitudes or form relationships with other Hispanics.

Traditions and Customs Costa Rica has a number of local traditions, many of which are religious. For example, during Holy Week (Semana Santa), when Christians commemorate events leading up to Easter, the small towns hold processions. Also, every year on August 2, Costa Ricans take part in the romería de la Virgen de los Angeles (the pilgrimage of the Virgin of the Angels, the patron saint of Costa Rica), by making a 12.5-mile (20-kilometer) trip on foot from San José to Cartágo, where the Virgin's sanctuary is located.

Every year in the month of December the Costa Rican people enjoy the fiestas cívicas (civic celebrations), which are similar to state fairs in the United States. In addition to a wide variety of foods and the usual carnival rides and sideshows, there are simulated bullfights, in which youths try their luck “fighting” balloon-decorated toros guacos (mean bulls), by getting close enough to pull the bulls' tails or touch their rumps.

Although the majority of these traditions have not been translated to the United States, Costa Rican Americans try to maintain several other traditions. Such is the case with the rosario del Niño, wherein families prepare a special nativity scene for Christmas that does not display the Christ Child figure in the manger until December 25. The nativity scene remains in its place until January 6, Epiphany Day (the twelfth day of Christmas). After that date, families pray the rosary with a group of friends who bring over their small children. After the recitation of the rosary, the families have a party that includes ice cream and cake and, if available, Costa Rican foods.

Like many other Roman Catholics, Costa Ricans believe in calling upon Jesus and the saints for assistance when they are in need or in danger. Each saint is thought to have a special mission or to be able to satisfy a particular need. One would pray to Saint Anthony, for example, if something has been lost or misplaced.

Not all the Costa Rican popular beliefs are religious in nature, however. Costa Rican people are great believers in herbal medicine. Many of them know that Page 547  |  Top of Articlegargling with a solution of boiled rue (a strong-scented plant) leaves will relieve a sore throat. Liquefied, strained raw eggplant is thought to lower cholesterol levels and to purify the blood. A popular cure for stomach discomfort is to drink liquid in which rhubarb or chamomile has been boiled. Costa Ricans also prepare a variety of herbal teas to soothe the nerves. Teas prepared with linden, orange, and lemon blossoms are thought to help those who drink them relax and and fall asleep at night.

Many Costa Ricans bring these customs and beliefs with them to the United States and continue to practice them, but often, as they assimilate into American society, they lose interest in these beliefs and cease practicing them. Consequently, second- and third-generation Costa Rican Americans may have minimal knowledge of such beliefs and practices.

Finally, Costa Rican Americans also celebrate all the American holidays, adopting American customs and typical holiday foods.

Traditional Dress If the opportunity arises, Costa Rican Americans share with others their native costumes by donning them at cultural festivals and community celebrations, which are typically free and open to the public. For women, such costume typically consists of a white peasant blouse decorated with embroidery or ribbon work and a colorful, ankle-length, full skirt. Men wear white peasant shirts and white pants. In addition, they frequently wear a colorful handkerchief around the neck and a straw hat. Both men and women wear sandals, and women braid colorful ribbons into their hair.

Cuisine Costa Rican cuisine is mild, free of hot and spicy sauces, and usually seasoned with herbs. Black pepper is used sparingly, but fresh cilantro, thyme, oregano, onion, garlic, pimiento, and tomato are fundamental ingredients in the preparation of meats, soups, and vegetable hashes. A variety of beef cuts, including tongue and kidney, are baked or simmered for long periods of time in herbal sauces until they are tender and flavorful. Chicken and pork are prepared in similar ways.

Complete daily meals in Costa Rica may include a meat dish, a vegetable hash, white rice, black or red beans, a lettuce and tomato salad, corn tortillas or crusty white bread, and a fresh-fruit drink. If the meal includes dessert, it is likely to be fruit; cakes, pastries, caramel flan, and ice cream are reserved for special occasions, holidays, or the afternoon tea. The traditional salad dressing is made of oil and vinegar, but mayonnaise is a favorite dressing for salads made of hearts of palm and fresh peas. Vegetable hashes, which include a small amount of beef, are made of cubed potatoes, chayote squash with fresh corn, and green plantains. Beef or vegetable soups are also popular in Costa Rica. Black bean soup topped with fresh herbs, a boiled egg, and white rice is a favorite side dish. Costa Ricans in the United States tend to adopt more typically American eating habits on a day-to-day basis—due in part to a limited availability (and thus high cost) of traditional Costa Rican ingredients—reserving traditional fare for large family gatherings, special celebrations (such as weddings and graduations), and holidays.

Holiday meals, both in Costa Rica and among Costa Rican Americans, often include tamales—cornmeal and mashed potatoes stuffed with meat, saffron rice, olives, a few garbanzo beans, green peas, pimientos, a wedge of boiled egg, and prunes or raisins. These tamales usually are 4-by-6-inch rectangles (10 by 15 centimeters) wrapped in banana leaves, each one a meal in itself. Holiday meals also often include a main dish of chicken and rice prepared with added vegetables and raisins. Ensalada rusa (Russian salad) is also a must at holiday meals. It consists of diced potatoes, fresh beets, and green peas all cooked separately then brought together in a mayonnaise dressing; sometimes diced hearts of palm are added as well.

Due to a set of distinct historical realities—such as the absence of a war for independence or a prolonged revolutionary period—the politics of identity, race, and ethnicity play different roles in the lives of Costa Ricans, both in their home country and in the United States, than they do for other Latin American groups.

Holidays Costa Ricans gather with friends and family for civic celebrations. It is customary to celebrate Independence Day (September 15) in Costa Rica with parades and school assemblies, although these celebrations are less common among Costa Ricans in the United States. Costa Rican Americans welcome the opportunity of celebrating with friends whether they are compatriots or people of other nationalities or ethnic backgrounds. They also join other Latin Americans in their celebrations, such as the Mexican American holiday Cinco de Mayo (May 5) and September 16, Mexican Independence Day.

Dances and Songs Like many Costa Rican folk dances, the Costa Rican national dance, the punto guanacasteco, comes from the province of Guanacaste. Couples wear traditional costumes and follow a melody played with a marimba (a sort of wooden xylophone) and several guitars. This dance, like other popular dances, portrays the courting traditions of the past. The male dancer always follows his female partner, and the latter, while smiling, pretends to elude him. The male dancer periodically stops the music by shouting “Bomba!” so that he may recite humorous praises, called bombas, to his lady. A traditional bomba goes as follows: “Dicen que no me quieres / porque no tengo bigote / mañana me lo pondré / con plumas de zopi-lote.” (“They say that you don't love me / because I

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Numerous Costa Rican proverbs come from Spanish culture and hence exist in many other Spanish-speaking countries also; however, there are some colorful sayings that seem to be typically Costa Rican or appear to be favored by Costa Ricans. These include the following:

En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo.

In the home of a blacksmith, a knife made of wood; meaning, roughly, that those too dedicated to their trade can often neglect their home lives.

A caballo regalado no se le busca colmillo.

One does not look for the canine teeth on a gifted horse; similar in meaning to “Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.”

A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando.

To God, pleading, and with the pestle, giving; meaning, roughly, “Pray to God for help but work to improve your problems as well.”

don't have a mustache / tomorrow I shall put one on / made out of buzzard feathers.”)

Costa Rican folk songs are nostalgic, featuring ballad-like melodies. The lyrics praise the beauty of the country's women and of the landscape as they tell of the sorrows of love. While some Costa Rican communities in the United States, such as in New York City, host regular, sometimes weekly, traditional dance nights, Costa Rican Americans typically reserve the performance of traditional song and dance for community or school cultural festivities.

Health Care Issues and Practices There is no evidence of physical or mental health problems unique to either Costa Ricans or Costa Rican Americans. Costa Rica's government-sponsored health care system deserves much of the credit for the good health of Costa Ricans. Medical attention in that country is not only superior to that of most of Latin America but also surpasses the health services available in many communities in the United States. According to Barry, infant deaths are fewer than eighteen per thousand compared with seventy-nine per thousand in Guatemala. Moreover, life expectancy is seventy-four years for males and seventy-six for females—the highest in Central America.

During the 1980s, Costa Ricans were able to arrest the spread of illnesses brought into the country by the flood of Salvadoran and Nicaraguan refugees thanks to their health facilities and an effective method of disseminating information regarding health issues. Malaria and tuberculosis, which had been eradicated from the country years before, began to reappear with the arrival of refugees, but the immediate attention given to this issue brought an end to the problem.

Since Costa Rican immigrants customarily obey U.S. immigration laws, they usually have formal documentation of their good state of health upon entering the country. In 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey reported that an estimated 27.4 percent of Costa Rican Americans were without health insurance coverage, compared to 15.2 percent for the U.S. population in general.

Death And Burial Rituals Holding a wake for deceased family and community members is an important custom among Costa Rican American families who have maintained their Roman Catholic traditions. They believe that the deceased must not be left alone while lying in state, and relatives and friends pray devoutly for his or her soul during the wake and thereafter. As is typical of any Roman Catholic wake, the deceased's family offers refreshments to visitors. After the funeral, the deceased's family and friends pray the rosary for nine evenings, offering refreshments after each night's prayers. Masses are said for the deceased's soul at the ninth day and also after the first month has passed. Relatives and friends also attend subsequent anniversary masses for the deceased.


Costa Ricans generally have conservative family values and relationships. For many Costa Ricans, a family must have a father, a mother, and children. Like many other Hispanic groups, Costa Rican families tend to be patriarchal in nature, and extended family members also are accorded authority. The father is the head of the household, and the elder members of the extended family are both respected and obeyed.

A traditional Costa Rican home usually has the presence of another relative—such as a grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and/or uncle—who assists in the rearing of the children. However, as modern life has become more complicated for women, and it is sometimes not possible to keep an older relative in the home. As a result, residential homes and condominiums for the elderly and the retired are becoming fashionable in Costa Rica.

Costa Ricans are a gregarious people. They get together with their relatives and friends as often as possible. The weekend and holiday afternoon tea is one reason to get together and is an institution in Costa Rica. Extended family members and friends invite each other over for five o'clock tea in order to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. This afternoon tea, which constitutes almost a complete meal, including a main dish and a dessert, is also a favorite activity for wedding showers and class reunions. The afternoon tea has become a substitute Page 549  |  Top of Articlefor supper in modern Costa Rica, and occasionally, instead of taking place in the home, as is traditional, people may gather in a restaurant.

Gender Roles Like many Western cultures, particularly Christian ones, women have long played a subordinate role in Costa Rican family and community structures. Traditionally, they have been offered fewer academic and professional opportunities than have their male counterparts. As such, men have traditionally held more positions of prominence and have been responsible for family finances, while women have stayed home to raise children and keep house.

Among contemporary Costa Ricans and Costa Rican Americans alike, however, these dynamics have changed. Today, all areas of education and employment are open and acceptable for pursuit by all members of a family or community, and marriages are generally treated as partnerships, with each partner contributing equally to all aspects of family and community life.

Education Education has long been a priority in Costa Rica, and the country's policies closely resemble those of the United States or, indeed, any modern Western nation. An elementary-through-high-school education is compulsory, and pursuit of postsecondary education is widely encouraged. As a result, Costa Rican literacy rates are consistently among the highest in Latin America—94.9 percent as of 2011, according to the CIA World Factbook.

This tradition has carried over into the educational trends and practices of the Costa Rican American population. As the two nations' systems have long been nearly identical, there is little distinction between mainstream American and Costa Rican American education, save the possibility that Costa Rican Americans are more likely to earn a college degree. According to 2011 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, only 19 percent of Costa Rican Americans attain less than a high school diploma, compared with roughly 14 percent in the general population. Of those that acquire at least a high school diploma, 26.4 percent go on to attain at least a bachelor's degree, compared with the significantly lower 17.7 percent of the general population. There also seems to be a high level of gender equality in this area, as male and female students attain a bachelor's degree or higher 25.2 and 27.5 percent of the time, respectively.


Political and economic stability, as well as high literacy and education levels, have led to unemployment rates consistently under 10 percent in Costa Rica—relatively low among Central American nations. Many Costa Ricans immigrate to the United States because they receive offers from American employers, not because they cannot find employment in Costa Rica. As such, employment rates among Costa Rican Americans tend to surpass those of other Latin American immigrants and more closely resemble those of the general population. There is no distinctive pattern in the fields of employment for Costa Ricans in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey estimated that 20 percent of Costa Rican Americans were employed in education, health care, and social assistance; 13 percent in science, administrative work, and the professions; and roughly 9 percent each in retail and construction.

Perhaps the only distinctive employment statistic is one that defies American stereotypes of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Contrary to the common misperception of Central Americans as being employed primarily as farmworkers and manual laborers, the 2011 survey reported that only 0.4 percent of Costa Rican Americans were working in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining combined.


Literature Rima de Vallbona, born in 1931 in San José, Costa Rica, has taught Latin American literature and civilization at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, since 1964; her novels and short stories depict feminine characters who are trying to understand the world. Mujeres y Agonías (Women and Grief, 1982), Mundo, Demonio y Mujer (World, Demon and Woman, 1991) Los Infiernos de la Mujer y Algo Más (Woman's Infernos and Something Else, 1992) are three of her most acclaimed works.

Victoria Urbano (1926–1984) taught Spanish literature at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, from 1966 until her death in 1984; in addition to founding the Asociación de Literatura Femenina Hispánica (Association of Hispanic Feminine Literature) in the United States, Urbano published numerous short stories and poems; her Los Nueve Círculos (The Nine Circles, 1970) and Exodos Incontables (Innumerable Exoduses, 1982), published in Spain and Uruguay, are frequently studied in Spanish American centers.

Politics Sonia Chang-Díaz (1978–) is the daughter of astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz. After serving as a public educator in Massachusetts for several years, in 2009 she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the state senate.

Science Franklin Chang-Díaz, born in San José, Costa Rica, in 1950, is a physical scientist. After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 1973 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he completed a doctorate in applied plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977. At the University of Connecticut he helped design and construct high-energy atomic collision experiments, and as a graduate student he worked in the U.S.-controlled fusion program, doing intensive research in the design

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Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz's father, renowned scientist Franklin Chang-Díaz, emigrated from Costa Rica.

Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz's father, renowned scientist Franklin Chang-Díaz, emigrated from Costa Rica. PAT GREENHOUSE / THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES

and operation of fusion reactors. After obtaining his doctorate, he joined the technical staff of the Draper Laboratory, working on the design and integration of control systems for fusion reactor concepts and experimental devices, and in 1979, he developed a concept to guide and target fuel pellets in an inertial fusion reactor chamber. Since then he has been working on the implementation of a new concept in rocket propulsion based on magnetically confined high-temperature plasmas. Chang-Díaz became an astronaut in August 1981 and continues to do research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Stage and Screen Harry Shum Jr. (1982–), born in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, is an actor, dancer, choreographer, and singer. His parents are both Chinese: his mother from Hong Kong, his father from Guangzhou. Having been born in Costa Rica, however, his first language is Spanish. The family moved to California when he was six, and he became interested in dancing shortly thereafter. He is most recognized for his portrayal of Mike Chang on the popular Fox television musical drama Glee (2009), but has also appeared in the dance-themed movies You Got Served (2004), Stomp the Yard (2007), Step Up 2: The Streets (2008), and Step Up 3D (2010).


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A.M. Costa Rica

Though based in San José, Costa Rica, this online newspaper has published stories of cultural, social, and political significance for the entire Costa Rican diaspora since August 2001. They publish exclusively in English and often report news and events involving both Costa Ricans in the United States and U.S. citizens in Costa Rica.



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Costa Rican–American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM)

AMCHAM Costa Rica comprises over four hundred companies and thirteen hundred corporate representatives, with U.S. and Costa Rican membership being split nearly fifty-fifty. Through advocacy and community organizing efforts, they promote growth of binational businesses in agriculture, livestock, aquaculture, import/distribution, tourism, manufacturing, business services, construction, and the nonprofit sector.

Catherine Reuben, Executive Director
P.O. Box 025216
Miami, Florida 33102-5216

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

LULAC is composed of individual councils in thirty-three states and a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., all working to improve access to economic, educational, political, housing, health, and civil rights resources for the Hispanic population of the United States.

Brent A. Wilkes, LULAC National Executive Director
1133 Nineteenth Street NW
Suite 1000
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 833-6130
Fax: (202) 833-6135

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

The NCLR operates in forty-one states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. According to its own mission statement, the NCLR “conducts applied research, policy analysis, and advocacy, providing a Latino perspective in five key areas—assets/investments, civil rights/immigration, education, employment and economic status, and health.”

Janet Marguía, President and CEO
1126 Sixteenth Street NW
Suite 600
Washington, D.C. 20036-4845
Phone: (202) 785-1670
Fax: (202) 776-1792


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Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)

The MOLAA, located in Long Beach, California, is the only museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to contemporary Latin American fine art. Included in its permanent collections are the works of Costa Rican and Costa Rican American artists such as Francisco Page 551  |  Top of ArticleAmighetti (1907–1998), Leonel González (born 1962), Priscilla Monge (born 1968), and Cinthya Soto (born 1969).

Stuart A. Ashman, President and CEO
628 Alamitos Avenue
Long Beach, California 90802
Phone: (562) 437-1689


Barry, Tom. Costa Rica: A Country Guide. Albuquerque: Interhemisphere Education Resource Center, 1991.

Biesanz, Richard, Karen Zubris Biesanz, and Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz. The Costa Ricans. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

Gidal, Marc. “Contemporary ‘Latin American’ Composers of Art Music in the United States: Cosmopolitans Navigating Multiculturalism and Universalism,” Latin American Music Review 31, no. 1 (2010): 40–78.

Mosby, Dorothy E. Place, Language, and Identity in Afro-Costa Rican Literature. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

Rottenberg, Simon, ed. Costa Rica and Uruguay. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Sandoval, García C. Shattering Myths on Immigration and Emigration in Costa Rica. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011.

Sawicki, Sandra. Costa Rica in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1987.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300053