ISMs in Costa Rica according to my peers





In one of my first blogs I discussed how “progressive” Costa Rica was when in actuality I should have waited to discuss this topic until the end of my program. My first few weeks I was blinded by the new environment and the Pura Vida lifestyle so much so that I forgot what DePauw had taught me, that not everything is black and white and when it comes to oppression we are all oppressors in some ways. I am by no means judging Costa Rica as a whole but rather analyzing and acknowledging the ISMs that exist around the world and how they have shaped Costa Rican Culture. In order to do so I asked my peers here at UNA to fill out a questionnaire for me.

I first asked them how they identify themselves allowing them to choose multiple options from this list:

  • Black
  • White
  • Costa Rican
  • Mexican
  • Latino/latina(latinx)
  • Asian or Pacific Islander
  • Afro-latinx

92.3% said they identify as Costa Rican and 6/39 said they identify as white only 8/39 said they were Latinx and only 3/39 said they were Hispanic. Which in my opinion is a little confusing. I gave them the option to choose multiple options because I wanted to see if race and ethnicity was the same for them, which it seems it can be the same for some people. I should have asked that directly. I also should have asked  if they knew the difference between Latinx or Hispanic. People all over the world have difficulty separating these two words. In my opinion Latinx includes everyone who identifies as Mexican or any South American nationality and is inclusive to non-gender conforming communities. Hispanic means people who speak Spanish(not my favorite term for so many reasons).

I then asked them questions regarding certain ISMs including: Racism, Colorism, Sexism, Heterosexism, and Religious Intolerance. I asked about these specific ISMs because

  1. There are not that many people of color in Heredia or specifically UNA.
  2. I wanted to be specific to differentiate racism and colorism, although they are connected they are still distinct.
  3. In my previous article (“Is Costa Rica Progressive”) I mentioned that sexism could be seen as more prevalent in the U.S, but I definitely spoke too soon.
  4. No one talks about the role Religion plays in Costa Rica as a whole and how it can be oppressive in many ways including towards the LGBTQ+ community.

I asked them if they thought that the ISM existed in Costa Rica and if they believe they played or have played a part in supporting or influencing that ISM. The results are in the table below:


ISM Does it exist in Costa Rica? Have you done something that influences or supports this ISM?
Racism 38.5% 15.4% 5.1% 74.4%
Colorism 56.4% 20.5% 7.7% 87.2%
Sexism 97.4% 0 2.6% 79.5%
Heterosexism 84.6% 0 17.9% 76.9%
Religious Intolerance 84.6% 10.3% 7.7% 82.1%

*The rest of the percentages not accounted for were listed as maybe


I found these results to be surprising for a couple of reasons. I think it is incredible that only 38.5% of my peers believe that racism does not exist in Costa Rica when in reality it does. I am not an expert on racism, but I know for a fact that racism takes place here in different forms. For example, if you explore even a small percentage of Costa Rica (like I have) you will see that many indigenous communities are displaced from urban areas and white passing Costa Ricans dominate the gentrificated areas therefore contributing to systematic racism.

I also think it is surprising that majority of people believed that sexism and heterosexism exist but also majority believed they do not contribute to those ISMs. I do not doubt that they think it’s true only because I do not think they (like majority of this world) are being taught the ways in which we can be oppressive directly and indirectly. I also want to point out that 53.7% of people who filled out this form are male, yet 79.5% said they have never contributed to sexism. I am sorry but that is 100% a lie. I am not trying to insult my peers I just want to acknowledge how impossible that is, even womxn contribute to sexism. This article addresses ways in which we can be sexist: 5 Seemingly Harmless Things That Are Actually Sexist. I am not going to dig deep in this but these are only some examples. I understand that people do not want admit to having prejudice thoughts or doing something that can oppress others, but I do not believe that there is one person in the world that has not contributed to at least one of these ISMs.

The final part to the questionnaire was the option to share an experience regarding one of these ISMs. Some chose not to which is fine but here are some of the responses:


  • Usualmente en los debates donde he estado o participado, las personas cristianas/católicas intentan anular la opinión/argumentos de la otra solamente porque esta es atea/agnóstica


Translation: The debates I usually see consist of Christians or Catholics trying to nullify the opinion / arguments of the other just because they are atheist / agnostic.


  • Varias veces escuchó los comentarios machistas u homofóbicos de mis tíos, algunas aunque pocas veces de mis padres, u otras personas diciendo que la homosexualidad no es natural.


Translation: Many times I have heard sexist or homophobic commentaries from my uncles, some times from my parents and other people saying that homosexuality is not normal.


  • Machismo: en Costa Rica lo vivimos día a día hasta en las prácticas del hogar cuando mi padre simplemente ve televisión mientras mi madre hace todo lo que a él le plazca


Translation: We see sexism everyday in Costa Rica even at home when my dad is just watching T.V. while my mom does everything that makes him happy.


  • He dicho “Eso le pasa por negr@”


Translation: I have said “That’s happens to them because they are black”


  • Soy de piel morena y a lo largo de mi vida he recibido comentarios de burla y rechazos por parte de grupos de personas debido a mi color de piel. A pesar de eso, yo sé quien soy y no me dejo llevar por las opiniones de los demás, sin embargo, estas actitudes de intolerancia se siguen viviendo a diario en la sociedad costarricense.


Translation: I am dark skinned and throughout my life I have been ridiculed and rejected by groups of people due to my skin color. Despite that, I know who I am and I do not get carried away by the opinions of others, however, these attitudes of intolerance happen daily in Costa Rican society.

I appreciate my peers honesty. Although, the percentages do not show how truly honest they can be but their last response does. It is important to acknowledge the ways in which we are oppressed and the ways in which we oppress others whether that be in drastic or small ways but still impactful like being a mere bystander to one of these ISMs. We as a society need to work harder at trying to eradicate these ISMs in institutional and individual levels.