Fading in Between Worlds

August 26, 2019
Khaalis in Costa Rica

Today’s blog post comes to us from Virginia Commonwealth University student and API blogger Khaalis Smithers, who is studying abroad with us in San Jose, Costa Rica!

Khaalis SmithersI would love to say that my experience thus far in Costa Rica has been one full of rewards and renewal.

However, that would be a complete devaluement of what it means to be a black, gender-nonconforming, queer person experiencing Costa Rica as a first-time traveler. It’s interesting how these intersectionalities work together to help define who I am as a person, on top of helping to define how I experience life as a person.

Costa Rica is beautiful, and it is definitely a place where a lot of growth can happen.

I believe that Costa Rica has done well to help me gain a new sense of self. One with which I identify more strongly with my roots, seeing as to how Costa Ricans themselves are very prideful and celebratory of their own heritage(s). That being said, my roots have become a point of contention in the Costa Rican world as they apply to how people view, see, and treat me. Blackness becomes scrutinized, not that it already wasn’t, and becomes commodified in ways that are based more upon fantasy, than realism. In other words, my experience as a black person in Costa Rica differs greatly from my experience as a black person in the United States, and here’s why:

Being black in the states essentially comes with the basic setup of having to exist, live, and operate within white-dominated spaces in general.

We are expected to conform to eurocentric standards of beauty in order to be beautiful, ‘behave’ and abide by white-based legislation that does not apply to us. We are also the slates by which white people can practice exploitation, experimentation, and gentrification. Black people are both the most highly-judged people, as well as the most highly-valued. And it sucks. It sucks being fetishized to the point where everything you do as a person is looked at as ethereal; as ‘exotic.’ Or, being critiqued to the point where loss of identity becomes second-hand to bodily movement. Not to mention, that the pervasiveness of whiteness has allowed and promoted anti-blackness in pretty much every other community there is. Most commonly, at least from my experience, the Latin community is what comes to the front of my mind when discussing a large presence of unwarranted anti-blackness in another marginalized community.

With that being said, it came as no surprise to me when I landed in Costa Rica and was immediately met with patronizing eyes that questioned my motives for being here. Although expected, it was hurtful to see that from the jump my life here would be one of constantly having to prove my validity in a space I should already have access to. Unlike the United States, where blackness is very much something that people make financial capital off of, Costa Rica, or the Latin-Americans pervade and make use of blackness in a different way.

Here I have noticed that people are intrigued, or mesmerized by this mystical thing I have grown up with; my skin.

As a matter of fact, my blackness in its’ entirety has become central to my likeness here, and it’s unnerving. Instead of scrambling to aspire to whiteness I am faced with being over-analyzation that makes me feel like a zoo animal. Some of my interactions with the ticos have been unsatisfactory in that they are usually initiated with the feeling of inadequacy. My not being fluent in Spanish definitely plays a part in this, considering that I willingly came to a Spanish-speaking country. Because of that, I understand the hesitance of the ticos to speak with me. They perceive this as me not being fully culturally-aware which must be frustrating. However, it’s also frustrating for me.

I understand the mentality that non-North Americans feel about North Americans given our position in the world, and our history. But, I have to say, it’s pretty annoying being grouped into a stereotype of what people perceive us to be based off of hearsay rather than personal experience. Especially considering that, once again, I am black and that in and of itself already comes with millions of stereotypical biases.

One thing I do miss about the states… the availability! Although the United States has a plethora of options when it comes to cosmetics, clothing, and food (and just about anything), here these options are very limited. In addition, stuff here is a lot more expensive as far as clothes and cosmetics go; whereas other things, like Uber and food products are generally cheaper.

On the other hand, there are things that I find really unique about Costa Rica that I have come to value deeply.

For instance, the tranquil haziness that each day brings is absolutely gorgeous to me. The days here feel longer. Because of that, I feel like I have a lot more time to get things done in a more efficient manner. In addition, the sun generally feels amazing and you can pretty much wear whatever you’d like on any given day.

I like how the people are more intimate with each other, and how a part of the culture is getting to know your community; compared to the states where most people don’t even know their own neighbor. The culture of intimacy and romantic expression of platonic relationships is intriguing, and day by day it is helping me become more in tune with the side of me that yearns for human interaction.

I also love the food and the way that the food is holistically cooked. It tastes so much cleaner and healthier, and I haven’t felt immense losses of energy as much as I would have back home. In relation, I absolutely love and adore my host-mom, Lizbeth, because she is quite literally the epitome of what good people aspire to be like. I would have to say that living with her and being under her tutelage has broadened my horizons, and made me a more considerate person overall.

In totality, I do absolutely love Costa Rica!

I love the way that the people look, and the way that family is maintained here. The authenticity of unconditional love is amazing, and it makes me feel warm inside when interacting with locals. I believe that as the remaining months pass, I will become a much more well-rounded person with many different outlooks on life.


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