The immigrant population has mixed with locals throughout the country in a continuum that has enriched the genetic makeup of the inhabitants of Costa Rica since the first settlers. The bulk of the current population born in another country comes from Nicaragua and is concentrated in the Northern Zone, Central Pacific and the Talamanca area. In San José, the canton of Escazú is home to high concentration of immigrants.
The history of Costa Rica begins not with the arrival of the Europeans, but long before. Archaeological evidence indicates that the present territory of Costa Rica has been occupied by human groups for approximately 12,000 years ... Southern Central America is a narrow strip of land between two seas, with high mountain ranges, fertile valleys, broad plains and a great biodiversity and, contrary to what has been proposed by some specialists, did not function simply as a zone of passage between Mesoamerica and South America for groups such as the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs, to mention only a few. There was a process of local development with regional diversity of similar antiquity to those of the rest of America. The area was not merely the byproduct of the great cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andean Region; rather, it was home to its own process and contributions at a regional level.
The violence of the conquest led to the extermination of thousands of indigenous people from all groups. On this foundation of violence, the genetic heritage of today’s Costa Ricans was built. The conquest and the colonization of our territory were carried out by Spaniards but also by Creoles, mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) and mulatos (mixed black and white heritage).
There was a lot of violence – the rape of women of the vanquished is still common practice in many wars around the entire world, and in some cases a matter of convenience. It was one way of allying with indigenous groups was to accept women from them and then to dominate others groups with the support of new partners.
We have genetically verified the mixture between indigenous and Spanish from the beginning, so most of our population has that heritage.
No one wants to be descended from Indians of ‘encomienda’ or black slaves because they were in the lower levels of Ibero-American societies in the colonial period. On the other hand, they find it totally natural and ideal to descend from the conqueror, the ‘encomendero,’ the master... In their search for the ‘illustrious,’ ‘founders,’ ‘notorious children of hidalgo blood,’ they have built some of the most fantastic stories... They made up ‘indigenous princesses’ to fill some empty branch [in their family tree] ...but the original origin of our people goes back to three basic roots: indigenous, African and Spanish.
At the end of the 17th and 18th centuries, in all existing settlements, hundreds of mestizo and mulato families appeared. How can we explain this large contingent of mixed families if it is not for their mixing in previous generations? In the next stage the natives were already removed by the mestizos from the Indian register. For Cartago, in 1778, 65.4 percent of the population was mestizo; 25.5 percent mulatos and 9.1 percent Spaniards (note that a quarter of the population of Cartago had African ancestors)
There are three types of studies to analyze genetic patterns. The Y chromosome analyzes paternal inheritance, the maternal mitochondria and the nuclear joint family composition.
In a human genome, the father and mother each contribute 50 percent; a grandfather represents 25 percent; a great-grandfather 12.5 percent; from a great-great-grandfather 6.25 percent; a great-great-great-grandfather 3.125 percent, and so on. Between siblings, the genetic characteristics vary.
For the study of genetic patterns of Costa Ricans, geneticists Bernal Morera and Ramiro Barrantes randomly collected blood samples from different hospitals throughout the country, detecting that a large portion of the population in general had the same genetic markers. They published their study in 2001.
Barrantes and other colleagues published another report in 2013 that found similar values for European, Amerindian and Afro-descendant heritage, and recorded an Asian presence of 9.2 percent in Costa Rican genetic inheritance.
In 2017, Morera will publish a new study, whose findings will collaborate with the genetic mapping of Costa Ricans.
All Native Americans, ancient and modern, stem from a single source population in Siberia that split from other Asians around 23,000 years ago and moved into the now-drowned land of Beringia. After up to 8,000 years in Beringia, they spread in a single wave into the Americas and then split into northern and southern branches about 13,000 years ago.
All that cultural wealth has created a lot of diversity in Costa Rican homes from Casa Presidencial on down.
With the guidance of genealogist Mauricio Melendez, we studied for this project three lines of descent of the family trees of the last four presidents. The results proved once again our genetic inheritance because they descend from the same indigenous women.
The indigenous women Catalina Tuia —also known as Pereira, the name of her “encomendero” – had mestizos. According to studies based on the historical archives of Gabriel Gaspar, falls 80 percent of Costa Ricans and 60 percent of Costa Rican descended from her offspring, and she is a common factor in the family trees of Luis Guillermo Solís, Laura Chinchilla, Oscar Arias and Abel Pacheco.
This study was carried out based on genealogical analyses of the expert Mauricio Meléndez on records of Costa Rican inhabitants since 1594, as well as records from ecclesiastical authorities, who recorded the baptisms, deaths and marriages, but not births. These documents have served to bring together the puzzle pieces of the Costa Rican past.
Since 1888 the entity that safeguards these files is the Civil Registry. At the top of his list of family names is Rodríguez, the most common among Ticos, with a total of 122,450 people (as of September, 2016). They are followed by Vargas with 102,033 and Jiménez in third place, with 101,397 people.
Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera: His Afro-Caribbean roots are recent: his maternal grandmother was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants. William A. Allen arrived in Costa Rica with his wife, María R. Taylor, from Kingston, Jamaica.
Likewise, Solís has Spanish ancestors, a branch of the Castro family, which he shares with former president Oscar Arias Sánchez.
Former president Laura Chinchilla Miranda has ancestors with the last name Fallas, but from two completely different branches: one is Spanish, and the other goes back to a slave.
Former President Oscar Arias shares his indigenous line with all three of the other leaders, and his Spanish line with Luis Guillermo Solís. Arias also has a mixed-race or mulata line, originated by Ana Cardoso.
Finally, of Abel Pacheco de la Espriella’s 16 great-great-grandparents, six were Colombians, five Costa Ricans, three Nicaraguans and one Panamanian.
Of the 16 great-great-grandparents, 62.5 percent had been born outside of Costa Rica, according to Meléndez.
The history of Costa Rican immigration can be seen in the faces and family histories of the population, but also in the country’s most beloved cultural institutions. In November 2005, UNESCO declared the tradition of the boyeo (oxcart driving) and the Costa Rican carreta (oxcart) a "masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." Since 2003, the University of Costa Rica (UCR) has been working on the communal project "Contribution to the conservation and revitalization of traditional Costa Rican cuisine, traditional games and turnos (community street fairs),” which preserves and celebrates a wide range of traditions, working with both young people and older adults. All of these demonstrate the influence of mestizaje (indigenous and non-indigenous blending) as well as cultural influences from other migratory flows.
And Costa Rica’s international history can be seen on the plate. The UCR is also the leader of the National Plan for Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy together with the Costa Rican Chamber of Restaurants (CACORE), seeking new legislation to celebrate and preserve the diversity of Costa Rican culinary heritage, as has already been done in 21 Latin American countries.
In the case of Costa Rica it is not possible to speak of a single cuisine. Variables such as the production and availability of food by region, the impact of internal migrations, the contribution of other cultures, and socio-historical transformations have contributed to and continue to enrich the various forms of culinary expression, which in turn constitute a national cuisine.
The ethnodiversity of the country can be seen in its food diversity. Costa Rica and American cultures in general shared with the rest of the world plant and animal foods that are already part of the world’s culinary culture. Maize, cacao, chompipe (turkey), tomato and chile are among the most representative.
It’s important to recognize at least three regional cuisines: of the Central Valley, of Guanacaste, and Afro-Caribbean. Instead of covering up these differences, let’s expose and value them.
This special report on Costa Rican immigration is a part of a renewed effort by The Tico Times to continue its more than 60-year tradition of telling the stories of Costa Rica’s international community. In the coming weeks we will be launching a series of profiles of foreign-born residents of Costa Rica, as well as a series focused on Costa Ricans living outside the country and doing extraordinary things for their adopted countries.
Throughout this endeavor, we want your input. What are your favorite cross-border Costa Rican stories? How did you or your family come to hitch your wagon to this extraordinary country? Which Costa Ricans far from home should we profile? We hope many of you will share with us your stories, comments and suggestions for the series described above.
And if you’re inspired to share a video with your story of Costa Rican immigration, or your family’s, share it on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #SoyMigranteCR!