15 September 2015

Happy Independence Day, Costa Rica

(Which was a relatively peaceful event, but into every history, some asshats must fall. This particular one came from Tennessee.)

On this day in 1821, Costa Rica, quietly obtained its independence from Spain, as did most of Central America, with the exceptions of Belize and Panama. Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948, and people here are very proud of the reputation they've built as a peaceful, tranquilo country. They've avoided many of the hardships suffered by their neighbors, starting with colonization. Not that the colonizers didn't come. Of course they came. They just didn't amp up the raping, pillaging, and murdering to the levels they enjoyed elsewhere. They did pass around some smallpox because that's just the colonizer's calling card. A given.

When that genocidal asshat, Cristóbal Colón, (You may know him as Christopher Columbus) came a-sailing in 1502, he dubbed this place Costa Rica, meaning "rich coast", believing it to be rich in gold.  It wasn't. Nor were there enough indigenous people for old Cristóbal to pull his usual stunt of enslaving them and forcing them to work their own land for his pleasure and profit. The settlers on the seemingly Rich Coast were largely left to their own devices, meaning they had to do their own work. Needless to say, Costa no-muy-Rica was mostly ignored while the Spanish colonization *cough genocide cough* continued in golder pastures.

Likewise, Costa Rica hasn't been affected by military conflict, dictators, corruption, or the effects of the drug cartels to the extent that its neighbors have. They did have to fend off an attempted takeover by one William Walker, a member of the Southern Confederacy who hailed from Tennessee. Willy decided he wanted a couple of Central American countries of his very own, by gawd, so he pulled a Cristóbal and decided to just go take them. Willy planned to convert Central America into a slave territory, extending the land of cotton right on down to the land of bananas.

Manifest Destiny wasn't just heading west, y'all.

He declared himself president of Nicaragua in 1856, and then set his sights on his neighbors to the south. The Costa Rican president rallied his people and raised a substantial militia in short order. Armed with farming tools, rifles, and (of course) machetes, they tracked down our Nashville native and commenced an ass-whooping. The Battle of Santa Rosa lasted about 15 minutes, ending with the would-be usurper high-tailing it for Nicaragua.

They followed him.

This is where the story takes on the stuff of legend and folks start with the toasts. Having cornered Walker and his men, President Mora asked for a volunteer to carry a torch and set fire to the building in order to drive the evil-doers out. A humble drummer boy, Juan Santamaría, bravely stepped forward, asking only that his mother be cared for in the event of his death. Our courageous boy-soldier did his duty and, tragically, met his end, but he succeeded in flushing out ol' Willy and his merry band of assclowns.

Costa Rica prides itself on its claim of being the only Latin American country whose national hero is a campesino, a humble laborer, rather than a politician or military hero. Juan Santamaría was also of mixed race, being partly of African descent, though you won't find that reflected in any of the statues. (French sculptor. What are you going to do?) Our main airport is named after Juan Santamaría, so if any of you head down, now you know the story behind the name.

This is the Costa Rican national anthem. I like how it reflects peace, the beauty of nature, and working the land with your hands. It briefly mentions defense in the context of the pueblo -- here meaning the people -- exchanging their tools for weapons to defend the country's honor, in the tradition of the militia that schooled William Walker.  No rockets' red glare, no bombs bursting in air. I like the idea of a national anthem being about peace, work, nature, and the land providing sustenance and shelter for its people.

The video has some nice scenes of Costa Rica. Give a listen. It's short and sweet. (Lyrics in the comments)

The anthem sounds sweeter to me this year, as I just received notification that my Costa Rican citizenship has been approved. In about a month, I should have my cédula, or national ID card, making me an official, card-carrying citizen of Costa Rica, or as my favorite taxista likes to say, más tica que gallo pinto. (You're more Costa Rican than the national dish. Yeah, flattery, but I'll take it.)

Feliz Día de la Independencia, Costa Rica.


  1. English lyrics, Costa Rican national anthem:

    Noble homeland, your beautiful flag
    Express for us your life:
    Under the limpid blue of your skies,
    Peace reigns, white and pure.

    In the tenacious battle of fruitful toil,
    That brings a glow to men’s faces,
    Your sons, simple farm hands,
    Gained eternal renown, esteem and honour
    Gained eternal renown, esteem and honour.

    Hail gentle country, hail loving mother!
    If anyone should attempt to besmirch your glory,
    You will see your people, valiant and virile,
    Exchange their rustic tools for weapons.

    Hail O homeland! Your prodigal soil
    Gives us sweet sustenance and shelter.
    Under the limpid blue of your sky,
    May peaceful labour ever continue.

    (Spanish lyrics are in the video)

  2. Did I hear that they are going to/have already renamed Columbus day? I'm pretty sure it's because of you. I think we should just start calling it Cowbell day, because you are a national dish.

    I mean, yeah, wrong context and everything, but NATIONAL DISH? That is just plain awesome. I'd be perfectly content if someone compared me to even a local dish. It could even be a side dish, not necessarily the main course.

    And also, you're kind of raising the bar with all these facts and research when you write. Stop that, you'll make everyone [me] look bad.

  3. Sorry, forgot to congratulate you on citizenship. That's kind of a big deal. Congrats, now you're an international dish.

  4. I'm such a vicarious celebrator. This is almost too much for me. Super super thrilled in every way for your shiny new citizenship!! However you say 'Most Excellent Patient Job!' in Spanish, say that, will you? And Happy Independence Next Day, too. Did you get fireworks? I like fireworks. Fireworks for new citizenship would be nice, too.


I've got a fever ...