Relevance is Relative

Today’s Costa Rican Independence Day parade

Last Sunday I hitched a ride and took two buses to a see the locals play a futbol game in the “nearby” town of Las Colonias. I was invited by Maira, a girl who works on the farm and lives in the (even tinier village of Jimenez) next to Esperanza, to watch her dad and brothers play. Because busses run on their own “schedule” on Sundays, we got there late, and everyone ran up the hill to the field. This was the first time any of them had been their either, so no one really knew where they were going or had any idea what to expect.

We walked past fairly nice houses, ones with porches and climbing flowering vines, houses whose tin roofs looked liked they’d actually been nailed down instead of just tossed on top of the concrete frame of the building. We passed a sign that read, “This is a planned community. Thank you to the members of our neighborhood watch for helping us maintain a safe and secure home.” Shit. We’re in the Costa Rican suburbs (well, not technically “suburban” because we’re nowhere near anything “urban,” but this was definitely Costa Rican middle class territory). And we were a crew of campesinos plus an awkward American.

As the men literally run to the field, they pull out worn red jerseys from their bags. They look about 10 years old, and are really just red polo shirts to which white someone sewed hand cut-out white numbers to the back. The top half of #2 is coming unstitched and flopping forward; the bottom half of the 4 in 4 is flapping in the breeze. Maira’s 12 year old brother Kevin doesn’t even have a homemade jersey; he’s just wearing a red tshirt. And bright orange shorts. Another Ezperanzian has on floral bathing suit trunks, and Maira’s dad Geraldo is wearing jeans and work boots.

The other team has shiny new yellow and blue synthetic uniforms, complete with shorts, shin guards, and “Las Colonias” emblazoned across the chest. This is a game of skinny misfit campesinos versus potbellied middle class Ticos.

The game ended in the pouring rain, with all the women and children huddled under the tin roof covering the food table selling tortillas, with Las Colonias winning 2-1. Esperanza put up a solid fight. Rail thin Kevin was throwing elbows at 40+ year old Las Colonias men and holding his own on the field. Both teams played well, and I couldn’t help but wonder, do they care that they look like mismatched farmers? Is that on their minds? Are they embarrassed or ashamed? Indifferent?

The difference in the uniforms and the waistlines of the two teams was what I saw, what stuck out to me as a North American Unitedstatesian (estadiundese). The things I noticed and deemed relevant enough to consider were wholly informed by my upbringing, life experiences, and subsequently constructed definition of normal. But I was trying to see if Maira, Kevin, Geraldo and the people of Esperanza were thinking about the same things. I couldn’t tell. (Maira was mad that the women didn’t get to play; they were supposed to play first, but because we got their so late they had to skip the game…that seemed to be the only thing on her mind).

Everyone was also preoccupied with how we were getting back, since no one had a clue if /when the buses would show up. Turns out one of the men of Jimenez has a pick up truck, so the majority of the town’s population, plus me, (14 people and two babies) pilled into the truck. Since everyone else in the truck was going to Jimenez, I got a ride back from there back up the mountain to Esperanza in the pouring rain on the back of her brother’s half broken moto running on E, further characterizing my Costa Rica experience as one of precarious modes of transit.

Tomorrow I’m going back to Maira’s family’s coffee/sugar/cattle/banana farm in Jimenez, and I’ll see and hear what they have to tell me about what they deem important in their own lives (and play futbol with the family, of course). Do they consider themselves poor? Are they poor? Do they care about money and looks as much as the rest of the modern world-from Americans to Costa Ricans? Do they live a romantic farm life where they enjoy the simpler pleasures of playing sports and sharing meals together? They live at the end of a dirt road with 18 people between two houses, the older of which would probably fall under the American definition of a shack. But they have a tv, a refrigerator, and a Mr. Coffee coffeepot. Whose definition of “normal” or “successful” do they subscribe to? A Costa Rican one? An American one (am I USA-/egocentric enough to consider that the nebulous American standard of living informs everyone else?)

People say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while that is probably true, relevance most certainly is.

Rather than me going on about the plight of a poor farmer team versus the wealthier suburban team as an allegory for the emerging Latin American class struggle, I’m going to shut up and listen to what the farmers of Jimenez have to say. I don’t know, but have a feeling it will be less superficial than griping about futbol uniforms, yet less romantic than extoling the joy of waking up at sunrise in concordance with the rhythms of the earth.



  1. Good thing Julio helped you get over your fear of motorcycles! And I can’t get over how thoughtful/meta youre being over there! NYU is so proud!

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