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Abstract

This paper attempts to make visible the community and their descendants of free Jamaican blacks who immigrated into the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica (specifically Puerto Limon) at the turn of the twentieth century to help build the American owned Northern Railway and work on the banana plantations owned by the American owned United Fruit Company. I illustrate the life of my great grandmother, Ruth Gourzong as an example of a woman from this community who managed to thrive against the odds of racism and sexism during her life time in Costa Rica. In order to fully appreciate the context of Afro-Costa Rican lives, it is important to first recognize the presence and legacy of Africans who helped build colonial Costa Rica from the 16th century onwards. On many levels, their lives have been rendered invisible as they have “melded” into the “Hispanic” pot of Costa Rican-ness. With the 2014 impetus by Costa Rican President, Luis Guillermo Solis to recognize the legacy of Afro-descended people in the country, my work answers this challenge by attempting to bridge two trajectories of African-descended people and their encounter with Costa Rica in both the 16th and 20th centuries. I want to rupture staid ideas about Costa Rica’s “pure” Spanish lineage, which brings to the conversation the legacies of African descent peoples as well as AmerIndian/Indigenous communities who continue to infuse Costa Rica with their rich cultural production. The stories of the Afro-Costa Rican community (in the diaspora of New York to the neighborhoods of Puerto Limon, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo) testify to complex migrations, community, identity, ritual and pride that bridge both a Caribbean sensibility with a Costa Rican national pride.

Note on the Author

Writer, Independent Scholar and founder of the Tengo Sed Writers’ Retreats in Costa Rica, Dr. Gordon-Chipembere lives in Costa Rica with her husband and two children.

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