Front Matter
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of Illustrations
 Map of Costa Rica
 Land of the Ticos
 Class and everyday living
 Courtship and marriage
 Family life

Title: Costa Rican life
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081324/00001
 Material Information
Title: Costa Rican life
Physical Description: x p., 2 l., 272 p. : illus. (map) plates. ; 21 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Biesanz, John Berry, 1913-
Biensanz, Mavis Hiltunen ( joint author )
Publisher: Columbia University Press,
Columbia University Press
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1944
Copyright Date: 1944
Subject: Social life and customs -- Costa Rica   ( lcsh )
Moeurs et coutumes -- Costa Rica   ( rvm )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Costa Rica
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 255-258.
Statement of Responsibility: by John and Mavis Biesanz.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00081324
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltuf - AEG0861
oclc - 00583037
alephbibnum - 000864099
lccn - a 44005796

Table of Contents
    Front Matter
        Front Matter 1
        Front Matter 2
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
    Table of Contents
        Page xi
        Page xii
    List of Illustrations
        Page xiii
    Map of Costa Rica
        Page xiv
    Land of the Ticos
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
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    Class and everyday living
        Page 19
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Full Text

With the compliments of
the tAuthor

Columbia University Tress





Copyright 1944
First printing, 1944
Second printing, 1945

Foreign agent: Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford,
Amen House, London, E.C. 4, England, and B. I.
Building, Nicol Road, Bombay, India

Manufactured in the United States of America

q 17. 18Z

8 58 9c




the students and teachers of the

Escuela Normal

and to the people of Heredia

this book is dedicated

with gratitude and affection


T HIS account, plain and evidently trustworthy, of one of
the smallest of the Latin-American countries, performs
an unusual service for North Americans who wish to
understand better their southern neighbors. It tells about the
ordinary life of ordinary people. It is concerned chiefly with
middle-class men, women, and children in a town that is neither
metropolis nor rural community. On the whole, books about
Latin America are either reports of the life of the capital city
and of formal political or economic events and institutions, or
else-in the studies made by anthropologists of villages largely
Indian in origin-they deal, although intimately, with a rural
life very remote from the world of the urban upper class. In
the former sort of book we read of what goes on at the top and
on the surface, but do so often without understanding the life
of the masses on which that country rests. In reading works of
the second sort we see the masses, but these masses are far from
the formal political events; the country as a whole is not pre-
sented; the Indian village is, or appears to be, a separate and
independent little world in itself.
The present work gives us both the whole and also a good deal
about its parts. Costa Rica has no Indian problem; the population
is homogeneous; the spread of interest and activity between
upper class and lower class is less wide than it is in many South
or Central American countries. Out of this small, relatively
compact sample of Latin America, a Latin America without
important Indian elements and without a great degree of cos-
mopolitanism or modern industrialization, the authors have made
us a picture of Latin-American life in its middle range, so to
speak. The people described in these pages have not had, in gen-
eral in published books, the reporting their importance recom-

viii Preface
For the life described in these pages is, in some sense, a com-
mon denominator of both the Latin America that has been and
the Latin America that is coming about. Different as countries
south of our border are one from another, there is, of course, a
culture more or less common to them all. Much of what is told
here is true of much more of Latin America than just Costa Rica.
The class structure with emphasis on manual labor as an im-
portant factor in determining status; the notion of "first fam-
ilies"; the subordination of women; the superior prestige of
professional life rather than business; the great interest in poli-
tics, a politics of personalities rather than issues; the idealization
of democracy; the "easy" Catholicism; the valuing of the life
of "culture" rather than of technology; the disinclination to
join clubs or civic enterprises-these are some of the features
of Costa Rican life which help us to know Latin America
generally. And on the other hand, there is much in these pages
that draws our attention to changes that are going on in many
parts of Latin America: the concentration of economic and
political power due to the development of a predominating crop
sold in world markets; the reorientation toward the United
States and the ambivalent attitude toward us; the appearance
of a more secular, modern, and class-conscious leadership in re-
form and politics. We who are soon to drive through Latin
America in our automobiles can read these pages and learn some-
thing of what has been there and of what will be.
At the same time this book is about Costa Rica, a little coun-
try, a country rather different from its neighbors in its homo-
geneity and in its relatively greater enjoyment of political and
civil rights. The book tells us about this unique country too. I,
who have never visited that country, am glad to introduce a
book that introduces that country to me.
Chicago, Ill.
August r, 1944


E OWE a debt of profound gratitude to Dr. O.
Myking Mehus, formerly president of the Winona
State Teachers College, Mr. Blake Nevius, resident
director, Lie. Luis Demetrio Tinoco, Costa Rican Secretary of
Education, and Dr. Marco Tulio Salazar, Director of the Escuela
Normal for arranging the exchange professorship with the Uni-
versity of Costa Rica which gave us the opportunity to write
this book.
Costa Rican friends who have been especially helpful include
Dr. Marco Tulio Salizar and Sra., Sr. Roberto Brenes MesOn,
Lic. Victor Elizondo and Sra., Sr. Mariano Montealegre, Srta.
Elsa Orozco, Dofia Angela Acuiia de Chac6n, Sr. Carlos Monge,
Sr. Ricardo Molina, Sr. Carlos Luis Sienz, Srta. Carmen Lyra,
Srta. Emma Gamboa, Sr. Ricardo Fernandez Guardia, Lic. Al-
fredo Gonzilez Flores, Lic. Le6n Corts, Lic. Carlos Bolafios,
Srta. Maria Sanchez, Sr. Jose Fabio Garnier, Padre Rafael Cas-
cante, Padre Francisco Herrera, Archbishop Victor Sanabria,
Sr. Fernando Vargas and Sra., Dr. Antonio Benavides and Sra.,
Dofia Isabel de Sienz, Dofia Oliva de Zamora, Doiia Corina
Rodriguez de Odin, Dr. Marcos Rodriguez and Sra., Sr. Jos6
Guerrero, Sr. Salvador Umaia, Sr. Rodrigo Arag6n, Lic. Ben-
jamin Odio, Sr. Alberto Bolafios, Dofia Ofelia de Herrera,
Sr. Ronulfo Gonzilez, Lic. Mario G6mez, Sr. Lalo Gimez, Ing.
Manuel Viquez, Lic. Rodrigo Facio, Lic. Fernando Fournier, and
Sr. Daniel Odiiber.
American friends in Costa Rica who have aided us time and
again include Dr. and Mrs. Albert Gerberich, Mr. and Mrs.
Marvin Harshberger, Mrs. Aubrey Legg, Mr. Reginald Reindorp,
Mr. Francis Mahoney, Mr. Stewart Eagan, Mr. Charles Thomson,
Miss Mary Coffey, Miss Jean LeMay, Mr. John LeMay, Mrs. Axel

x Acknowledgments
Coen, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Strachan, Mr. and Mrs. Leon
Headington, and Mr. and Mrs. Worth Maynard.
We also wish to thank G. Haven Bishop, the Foto Shop
J. Jimtnez M., and the Junta Nacional de Turismo, Costa Rica,
who so generously contributed the pictures for use in this book.

Winona, Minn.
August, 1944


PREFACE, by Robert Redfield vii






VI. WORK 127







Costa Rica xiv

Tin and Tile Roofs of San Jose 16

A Typical Village on the Central Plateau x6

Peons Spading the Earth around Young Coffee Trees 128

Barefoot Peons Turning the Green Coffee Beans on the
Concrete Drying Floor 1z8

Firewood to Be Auctioned at a Religious Festival in Cartago 208

Flower-Covered Hearse in Front of the Cathedral 208

84----------------- ""




In the center of beautiful America there is a happy and
fruitful nation of a virile, industrious race . Costa Rica.
. Its soil is so varied and fertile and encloses such rich
treasures that it stands out on the map of the world like a
beautiful garden.1
ALTHOUGH it would appear insignificant on a map of
the world, the little country of the Ticos, as the other
Latin Americans call the Costa Ricans, has been described
almost invariably in terms of admiration and high praise. A
model democracy, a land of peace, hard work, and progress-
thus it has been characterized by one writer after another.
In spite of the growing interest war has aroused in Latin
America among the people of the United States, many feel a lack
of real knowledge. The geography of the Old World has always
been clearer to North Americans than has that of the South
Americas. And in picturing life and love "south of the border,"
Hollywood has outdone itself in fantasy, distortion, and exaggera-
tion. We imagine Latins as barefoot peons asleep under a cactus
plant or as mustached, effeminate gallants expert in the rhumba.
Sejoritas are either volatile "spitfires" or dark, flirtatious damsels
with shawls over their shoulders and flowers in their hair. A Latin
country is supposed to be one where presidents are replaced every
day to the tune of bullets, where palm trees and hibiscus blossoms
sway languorously in the tropic breeze.
On the fateful night of December 7, 1941, Americans, bending
tensely over their radios for more news of Pearl Harbor, heard
that Costa Rica had already declared war on Japan. If they looked
it up on the map, they probably turned to the West Indies, con-
1 Graciliano Chaverri, "Costa Rica," in Obreg6n, Geogralffs pfriat p. a3.

2 Land of the Ticos
fusing it with Puerto Rico, before finding it in the crook of the
isthmus that joins North and South America.
The newly curious who hunted more data in the World Al-
manac surely gasped at the audacity of a declaration of war by a
country smaller than West Virginia, having two-thirds of a
million people and a standing army of some five hundred soldiers.
They could not, however, find a recent book telling how people
live in this little country. The authors spent ten months in
SHeredia, a town of ten thousand and the center of the coffee
region, and half a year in San Jose, the capital, and other parts
of the republic preliminary to the present attempt to interpret
Costa Rica to North Americans.
On a sloping hillside, Heredia, the coffee town, commands a
view of much of the meseta central, the central highland that is
the real Costa Rica. Southeast of the city one sees San Jos6, the
metropolis which claims one-tenth of the 700,000 Costa Ricans.
The colonial capital, Cartago, lies at the foot of the volcano Irazil,
whose bulk meets the eye as one looks eastward down any street
in Heredia; but the old capital itself is hidden from sight by the
Ochomogo Hills, which divide the plateau in two. Southward the
red tile roofs of small towns glow against the blue-green backdrop
of the southern cordillera. From the central station of Heredia
busses leave at frequent intervals for Alajuela, eight miles west
along the Inter-American Highway.
Within this small compass, 770 of the country's 23,ooo square
miles,2 are to be found three-fourths of the population and most
of the wealth of Costa Rica. This favored region has one of the
most pleasant climates imaginable. San Jos6 has a mean tempera-
ture of 70 degrees, with an annual variation of only five degrees.
Yet it is only 625 miles from the equator-in the same latitude as

2 As given by Obreg6n in Geografia general de Costa Rica, p. S2. Estimates vary on
how much land there is in the central plateau, one giving as high as 3,5oo square

Land of the Ticos 3
the southern tip of India and the northern portion of Venezuela.
The backbone of the narrow country-175 miles at its widest
point and 74 miles at its narrowest-is the high, volcanic, Costa
Rica-Panama cordillera. The central plateau is a large valley, at an
altitude of 3,000 to 6,000 feet, between two sections of this range.
From the eastern side of the tableland the Rio Reventaz6n splashes
down the mountainside and through the jungle to Puerto Lim6n
on the Caribbean, where most prewar tourists entered the
country. From the western side of the plateau the Rio Grande de
Tarcoles winds down to Puntarenas on the Pacific. On these hot,
humid coastlands thrive bananas, cacao, and the new plantations
of rubber, quinine, and hemp born of war needs.
On the Pacific side, near the Nicaraguan border, lies the cattle
country of Guanacaste, reminiscent of our Old West and more
akin to Nicaragua than to Costa Rica. In such isolated regions as
those southward along the Panama border live remnants of Indian
But the real Costa Rica is that fertile cup in the mountains,
scarcely forty by nineteen miles, which has been called the Land
of Eternal Spring. There grows the grain of gold of Costa Rica
-coffee. "Our coffee," any man on the street will say, "is the
best in the world." Along any road out of Heredia, the coffee
trees stand row after row, like ladies daintily holding up green
taffeta skirts, shaded from the too-ardent sun of the tropics by
the plantain and jocote trees. To the Ticos, whose standards of liv-
ing were transformed by coffee from the lowest in Central Amer-
ica into the highest, there is no lovelier sight than the white veil
of bloom on the trees in April and May. In these months the rains
begin which turn the plateau into a luxuriant green garden.
Until November "winter" continues. Except for occasional pe-
riods of continual rain, the sky is blue and the sun bright until
midday or later, when the daily afternoon shower begins. In some
months these rains are heavy and continue into the evening. An

4 Land of the Ticos
umbrella is a permanent appendage of every Costa Rican during
this season, from the barefoot oxcart driver to the elegant seiora
of the capital. The dry season is called "summer"-and on a sunny
day in the rainy season the conventional remark on the weather
is that "it makes summer."
To a foreigner the climate seems ideal, with cool nights and
pleasant days. The Costa Ricans complain, however, that it is too
good: "We never have to plan for snowy winters; that is why we
go along taking life too easy."
When the air is just a few degrees cooler than usual-in the
early morning or after a rain-they shiver and complain, "Ay,
que frio!" (How cold it is!). And if there is a suspicion of more
warmth than usual, they limply fan themselves and moan at fre-
quent intervals, "Que calor!" (How warm!).
If nature has spared the Ticos snow and hurricane and stifling
heat, it has given her volcanoes that occasionally stir into life and
erupt. During March and December, when the season changes,
light earthquake shocks are frequent. Occasionally a disastrous
earthquake, such as that of 190o, which is said to have left only
two houses standing in Cartago, takes place.
Washed by two oceans, blessed with various climates and soils,
Costa Rica lacks little in the way of geographic advantages. Her
garden spot is the central plateau, lifted high into the mountain
air and verdant with coffee trees.
SOn this small but fertile tableland, Costa Rican culture and
civilization developed. When Columbus sailed into Cariay (now
Puerto Lim6n) on September 8, 15o2, the country was occupied
by perhaps 27,ooo Indians, living in scattered tribes, tilling the
soil. Those he saw in Cariay and in Almirante Bay (Panama) were
wearing gold ornaments and seemed to him intelligent and of a
comparatively high culture. He was so excited about the riches
seen in Veragua, as he called the region, that he wrote to Ferdi-
nand and Isabella:

Land of the Ticos 5
"I esteem this business and these mines, with this seaport and seigniory,
to be of greater importance than all others achieved in the Indies. . .
I saw in this land of Veragua greater evidence of gold in the first two
days than in Espafiola [Haiti] in four years."
From that time on, one of his chief anxieties was that Veragua might
be plucked from his golden dream. With a zeal worthy of a better cause,
he contrived to guard until his death the secret of the exact position on
the globe occupied by that land.'
Because of the great fame of the riches of Veragua and the
mystery surrounding its location, many attempts were made to
rediscover and conquer the region after Columbus's death. Ad-
venturous Spaniards braved many hardships to get the gold of
"the rich coast north of Veragua," as it was later called to distin-
guish it from the Duchy of Veragua (Panama). This was later
shortened to the picturesque "Costa Rica."
The "rich coast" turned out to be a place for hardy settlers
rather than gold-hungry conquistadores. Most of the colonists
filtered in from Nicaragua. Isolated on the plateau, they lived
a simple, arduous life, harassed by pirates such as Drake and
Morgan-who hoped to dominate both seas by conquering narrow
Costa Rica-and by the predatory "Mosquitos." The latter were
the descendants of a shipload of slaves who were shipwrecked
on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua in 1641 and intermarried
with the Carib Indians. Almost every year they came down to
maraud the cacao plantations of the Cartagans in the Matina Val-
ley, carrying off cacao, slaves and tortoise shell. These they traded
to the British in Jamaica for arms.4
Aside from these Mosquitos, the Indians did not cause much
trouble. The five tribes were scattered, lacked unity, and were
agriculturally inclined. Those who did not flee farther into the
mountains when the Spaniards came were assigned to special vil-
8 Fernindez Guardia, History of the Discovery and Conquest of Costa Rica, p. 45.
4 Fernndez Guardia, Cartilla hist6rica, p. 53. The bulk of the historical material
which follows is adapted from this source.

6 Land of the Ticos
4 lages called pueblas, divided among the settlers, and forced to serve
them and till their fields.
Unlike the settlers in Mexico and Peru, the Costa Rican colo-
{' nists had little success with the slavery system. The Indians died
0 out rapidly; by 1741 there were only one-third as many as at
the time of the discovery. The colonists themselves had to work
to raise their food, and even the governors found it necessary to
till the soil when not occupied with their official duties.
Expresident Ricardo Jiminez, still living after three administra-
tions and easily the country's most popular man, says, "Prick a
Costa Rican and Indian blood will spurt right out." And he is
descended from the leading conquistador, Vasquez de Coronado,
a Spanish nobleman! Yet the country has more white blood than
any other Central American nation. At first many Spaniards
married Indian women, and some families boast of their descent
from Spanish noblemen and Indian princesses. Most of the Costa
Rican population, however, is said to have descended from the
fifty families, predominantly white, who were living in Cartago
and Aranjuez in 1573. Only about four thousand Indians now
Remain in isolated parts of the country, and there is no mestizo
group socially distinguished from white.
This homogeneity of population has been an immense ad-
vantage to Costa Rica. Guatemala and Mexico, on the other
hand, are examples of countries which bear the weight of an
"Indian problem" and have definite classes based largely on color
The Spanish governors of Costa Rica invariably pleaded for
aid for the poor colony, but because of its very poverty and its
lack of communications it was neglected by the central colonial
administration in Guatemala. Mineral wealth was undeveloped.
The fertile soil yielded only the primary needs of the settlers-
corn, beans, wheat, sugar cane-cultivated laboriously with
wooden tools.

Land of the Ticos 7
Commerce was forbidden with any country but Spain. Books
were forbidden, except for a few printed in Spain. Foreigners
were not admitted. The colony remained in a state of intellectual
darkness, for few could afford to attend the universities at Le6n,
Nicaragua, or Antigua, Guatemala. The governors complained
that they could not find people literate enough to do their office
work or to act as mayors. Few could sign their own names.
Governors noted that the women who came to the official recep-
tions had absolutely no ornaments. The priests had more cause
for complaint. People stayed away from church for lack of clothes
or for lack of a means of transportation.
At the time of the great eruption of Irazi! (1723) the city of Car-
tago consisted of seventy houses of adobe and tile, a main church, a
chapel, and two hermitages. There was no doctor, no drugstore, no
sale of food. Most of the residents lived in the country and came to
town only on fiesta days. The dress of the most luxurious women con-
sisted of goats'-hair cloth, a shawl of green flannel, and a white hat;
no jewels.
Many dressed in wood fiber, having nothing else. Therefore they were
ashamed to present themselves in the towns and passed years with-
out setting foot in a church.5
Heredia, generally called the most religious city in Costa Rica,
originated around a church.
Population grew in the eighteenth century because of the prodigious
fecundity of the women and the coming of new settlers, mostly Pana-
manians, who trickled into the valley of the plateau and tried to group
themselves into villages for the necessities of life and marriage. Not
being able to attend the Cartago church on holy days, because of lack
of roads and bridges, distance, and even at times for lack of proper
clothing, these scattered settlers went to hear mass and fulfill their
religious obligations at the nearest Indian villages.
Those in the Barba valley built a rude church of their own in 1706,
and in 1717 moved it to the site of Cubujuqui [the Indian name for
Heredia]. . But the population of Cubujuqui did not grow as was
5 FernAndez Guardia, Cartilla historic, pp. s$5-6,

8 Land of the Ticos
hoped, for most of the parishioners continued to live in the valley on
their farms, caring for what was theirs with the love and solicitude of
the peasant. They obstinately refused to leave their land, fields and ani-
mals to put themselves "beneath the bell." Bishop Morel urged them
to concentrate themselves in town and get a greater independence in
local matters. The mayor of Cartago, don T6mas Lopez de Corral, took
the matter into his own hands, which were never very gentle, and in
February, 175$, decreed that no one could build a house in the country
without a license. All the residents of the region had to construct dwell-
ing houses in Cubujuqui within sixty days. It was provisionally organized
as a town in 1763, with the name of Heredia.6
Evaluating Spain's colonial policy, Ricardo Fernandez, the
country's leading historian, writes:
During more than two and a half centuries of the colonial regime,
the existence of the inhabitants of Costa Rica was one of misery and
suffering. Isolated from the rest of the world, without commerce, with-
out ways of communication, they vegetated sadly, having to fight al-
most daily to defend the crumbs of their poverty from the clutch of
S the pirates and the Zambos Mosquitos.
Many charges can justly be made against Spain for its bad govern-
ment of America; but with all its defects, it must be recognized that
for its time it was not so extreme as is generally believed. The rights
given by law were effective, the courts imparted justice equally, public
properties were managed with notable purity, the authorities were re-
sponsible for their misdeeds. And shame to confess it, but in more than
one Latin American republic, the colonial regime would seem today a
regime of liberty. The greatest error of the colonial system of Spain
was the restriction of commerce.7

Isolated on their central plateau, living in poverty, tranquility
and ignorance, the colonists felt none of the stirring of revolu-
tion. On more than one occasion before x821, in fact, they de-
clared their solidarity with Spain. In October, 1821, news came
that Guatemala had declared independence a month earlier. After
6 Adapted from Cleto Gonzilez Viquez, "Heredia, su nacimiento y primeros passs"
in Associaci6n Ala, Heredia, pp. x62 f:
7 Fernandez Guardia, Cartilla histdrica, pp. 67-68.

Land of the Ticos 9
some hesitation the cities and authorities of Costa Rica swore
absolute independence from Spain in November. "Independence
was not won by Costa Rica; it dropped into her lap." 8
Although independence from Spain came to Costa Rica with-
out effort or bloodshed, the country was divided on another issue.
General Iturbide proclaimed himself Emperor Agustin I, of
Mexico, in November and sent armed forces to annex the Central
American countries. Heredia was in favor of immediate and un-
conditional surrender to the imperial forces of Nicaragua, which
threatened to invade Costa Rica with troops. Part of the inhabit-
ants of Cartago also favored the empire.
Costa Rica having only about 5o,ooo people in all, the ensuing
civil war among the four principal towns sounds like a tempest
in a teapot. By March, I823, the time had come to swear fidelity
to the empire. The imperialists seized the Cartago barracks and,
supported by Heredia, proclaimed loyalty to the Mexican Empire.
The forces of Alajuela and San Jos6 defeated those of Cartago
on April 5. Because of this victory, the capital was transferred
to San Jose.
On April 5, 1823, the Heredian imperialists defeated an Ala-
juelan force, and they agreed to return the captured cannon and
prisoners if Alajuela would swear loyalty to the empire within
three days.
The Heredians returned full of cheer. . Fiestas, illumination of the
houses with small lanterns, a paseo in the streets to the music of the
flageolet players from Barba, and bull games in the plaza were the cele-
bration of victory. . Next day the forces were ready again . .
to begin attack on the republican forces of San Jos6, when news came
that the republicans had defeated the Cartagans on April 5. . This
deed of arms changed things, leaving the above treaty ineffective,
and put Heredia in the position of having to adhere to the pact,
April i6.9
8 Jones, Costa Rica and Civilization in the Caribbean.
' Tribunal, Sept. ix, 1942, p. 16.

10 Land of the Ticos
A Central American Federation was formed in 1824, but it
was never successful. Costa Rica had its troubles-royalist plots,
party dissensions, coups d'etat-but its homogeneity kept it much
more unified and peaceful than the other Central American coun-
tries, which suffered from anarchy and civil wars. The diversity
of the states, lack of communications among them, and the low
l vel of education predoomed democratic federation to failure.
In 183 8 Costa Rica proclaimed herself a sovereign and independent
state, under the administration of Braulio Carrillo, an ironhanded
but efficient ruler. His accomplishments included promoting cof-
fee, introducing order into the public administration, and incul-
cating into the people habits of morality, honor, and work.10
Carrillo, however efficient, was a dictator, and the liberals called
in Francisco Morazan, an exile from Honduras with dreams of
Central American unity. He took over the government, having
been appointed provisional president in July, 1842, and the as-
sembly declared that Costa Rica was and would continue to be
part of the Central American Federation. Since the other countries
had also proclaimed their sovereignty, this amounted to a declara-
tion of war. To raise money for troops, Morazin imposed heavy
taxes and took despotic measures. He swiftly became unpopular
and was captured and shot two months after taking control, hav-
ing asked the privilege of commanding the firing squad himself.
Although he holds a disputed place in Costa Rican history, his
valor and his convictions make him the hero of those who still
dream of union.
In 1848 Costa Rica again declared her sovereignty, and in 1850
she was recognized as an independent state by Spain.
But not yet was Costa Rica free to develop in isolation and
peace as she seemed to wish. The obstacle-and the motive for the
"epic" of Costa Rica-was an American adventurer.
William Walker, a soldier of fortune, took advantage of a
10 Fernindez Guardia, Crtilla histdrica, pp. 73 ft.

Land of the Ticos 11
civil war between conservatives and liberals in Nicaragua. 'he
liberals, defeated in the elections of I854, would not give up.
Castell6n, their leader, made an agreement with this audacious
American. Walker formed an expedition of Frenchmen, Ameri-
cans, and Germans in San Francisco, and in 185 5 came to Nicara-
gua and seized control, making himself head of the army.
Upon seeing the ease with which he had become the arbiter of the des-
tinies of Nicaragua, Walker conceived the audacious project of taking
power of the five states of Central America, re-establishing slavery in
them and forming an empire or adding them to a new federation of
the Southern States of the United States, which were quarreling over
the maintenance of slavery with a powerful part of the North which
aimed to abolish it."1

Peaceful Costa Rica was aroused by such news, relayed by the
Costa Rican representative in Washingion, and responded en-
thusiastically to President Mora's call for an army and a war
fund. The filibusterers invaded Guanacaste. Troops went to meet
them, defeating them in the battle of Santa Rosa and other en-
Costa Rica has only one war hero. On the morning of April
II, x856, Walker took control of Rivas, fortifying himself in
the largest house. Juan Santamaria, an Alajuelan soldier, set fire
to the house, sacrificing his life. Torch in hand, his statue rises
in a public park in Alajuela, and he is treated as the national
War went on until 1857, but a more deadly and less glamorous
enemy did far more damage than the bullets of the filibusterers.
Cholera spread from Nicaragua, attacked the populace, and
killed 1o,ooo of the izi,ooo Costa Ricans. During the lull in
11Ibid., p. 88. We should stress the fact that we here present only the Costa Rican
version of Walker's exploit, as documents from other countries are not immediately
12 General Cafas and the Moras-war leaders---are also called heroes, but they have
no one spectacular deed to distinguish them.

12 Land of the Ticos
hostilities caused by the cholera Walker made himself president
of Nicaragua and re-established slavery. He had received aid and
reinforcements from the Southern States.
Guatemala and El Salvador joined the fight, Honduras coming
in when the tide had turned against Walker. President Mora
called on the Costa Ricans again, and toward the end of 1856
they went forth once more, fighting naval battles to get control
of Walker's supply route. They were guided by an American
named Spencer, who worked for Cornelius Vanderbilt, president
of the ship company whose property Walker had seized.
By May, 1857, the filibusterers had been defeated, and Walker
surrendered and returned to the United States, where he was "re-
ceived triumphally . and his friends, the slaveholders of the
South, gave him resources to return to Central America." In
November he made another attempt to get control of Nicaragua,
but was balked by an American warship, which made him pris-
In i860, at the head of another expedition, he took the port of Trujillo
in Honduras. Compelled to retire by the intervention of the English
warship "Icarus," he penetrated Honduran territory and defeated troops
of that country. Nonetheless, considering himself lost, he gave himself
up to the commander of the "Icarus," who put him in the hands of the
Honduras authorities. Walker was shot in Trujillo, September 2, 86o.".
The "epic of I856" helped to kindle patriotism, unify the
nation, and strengthen mistrust of foreigners. For several decades
political rivalries and the attempt of a military oligarchy to en-
trench itself in power disturbed the national scene. General Tombs
Guardia seized power by a coup d'etat and, in the various capaci-
ties of president, dictator, and the power behind the presidency,
exercised control for more than ten years. Under him was in-
troduced in 1871 the Constitution that has since been the basic
law of the nation. Railroad construction and other public serv-
1a Fernndez Guardia, Cartills bist6rica, p. 96.

Land of the Ticos 13
ices were promoted. But from him also stem many of the evils
which have plagued Costa Rican politics ever since.
In 1942 a "Democracy Day" was established, commemorating
the first free elections on November 7, 1889, thus marking the
beginning of an era of progress toward truly popular government.
Since then public opinion has played an important role in politics,
with such exceptions and violations as the coup d'itat of Federico
Tinocoin x917.
Material progress in the last half century has been great. Minor
Keith, an American whose fame is now legendary, undertook
the work that had been a dream for decades-the construction
of a railroad to the Atlantic. Coffee had been hauled laboriously
down to Puntarenas by oxcart. Travelers landing in Lim6n had
to come to San Jos6 on muleback. But the mountain slopes, broken
by ravines and covered with tangled jungle growth, seemed to
mock all efforts to build a railroad. Keith was determined. "Where
a river goes a railroad can go," he said to skeptics. Following the
Reventaz6n, he had conquered ravines and jungle fevers and com-
pleted the railroad by 189o. He also laid the basis for the huge
-Tanana industry. Travelers from New Orleans or New York
found it increasingly easier to visit Costa Rica on banana boats.
By 1909 the rails connected Puntarenas on the Pacific with the
capital, giving the country the first ocean to ocean railway in
Central America.
Each new development in communication has meant a new
impulse to Costa Rican life. The railroads facilitated the exchange
of goods, travelers, and ideas with the outside world. Road build-
ing has unified the country and increasingly opened up new agri-
cultural lands. The Inter-American Highway means good land
communication among the Central American countries for the
first time in history and the promise that, when the military trucks
stop rolling and tires and gasoline are no longer fantastic luxuries,
travelers will drive to Costa Rica from Texas in a week. Most of

14 Land of the Ticos
these visitors are certain to observe a greater variety of customs
and scenery and to form more unusual friendships than in any
previous week of their lives. Plane service has increased tre-
mendously with war needs. At the airport disembark diplomats,
presidents, actors, tourists, businessmen, military men. Costa
Rica, which terms itself the "Heart of the Americas," is increas-
ingly conscious of its growing nearness and interdependence with
the countries north and south, as well as somewhat fearful of
the possible implications to their prized nationalism and liberty.
Warns a high school geography text:
Costa Rica is destined, because of its dimensions and configurations, to
form a very united nation, but at the same time, is open to foreign in-
fluences, which, if they bring progress, serve at the same time, unfor-
tunately, to foment corrupting luxury, spoil customs and import sick-
New ways of life have evolved, and the times of the fusil de
chispa (flintlock rifle) are no more than a sentimental memory.
Grandmothers, scandalized at modern ways, sigh for "the golden
age," the "patriarchal epoch," when life was hard but simple,
the fabulously growing coffee industry provided work for all,
and beggars were unknown; when people were truly pious and
everyone called one another "brother"; before locomotives ac-
complished in four hours the former romantic nine-day trip of
the coffee-loaded oxcarts which had rumbled slowly down to
Puntarenas; before the auto came, and the ubiquitous intercity
bus; before the country girls exchanged their white blouses and
long bright skirts of cretonne for short rayons, and their braids
and bare feet for bobs and red slippers.
That pastoral picture of nineteenth-century life is as untrue
now as is the mental picture of an American girl before she came
to Costa Rica. "I thought Costa Rica was hot and swampy, with
jungles where you sank in to your knees, and snakes and tigers
14 Obreg6n, Geografia general de Costa Rica.

Land of the Ticos 15
lay in wait; with black men loading bananas, and people lying in
the streets at noon with their sombreros over their eyes." Four
months after she stepped from the plane she told us:
"I was surprised to find San Jos6 so modern, with streetcars,
lots of autos, paved streets; and to see the girls walking in the
park in the most gorgeous dresses and fur capes and veiled hats.
And there are phones and running water and electric lights-
why, you can live just as you did at home!"
Progress, which the Costa Ricans firmly believe is a trait of
their national life, has modernized the capital and given it a some-
what cosmopolitan air. It has also robbed it of some of the charm
that goes with backwardness. But-within a ten minutes' ride
away from the capital in the big busses are villages where old
customs and superstitions survive. There the conchos, simple
country people, hear "the cart without oxen" rattling by at night.
They tell of this or that lone night wanderer who met a beauti-
ful girl, who charmed him and before he reached the village dis-
appeared, after turning toward him the face of a horse. There
mischievous dwarfs steal children, soil the tortillas, and make the
charcoal fire smoke. There the whitewashed walls are covered by
pictures of saints. There the milk is delivered by cantering horse-
men with milk cans strapped to each side of their horses. There
the villagers' speech abounds in the diminutive that has earned
Costa Ricans the nickname "Ticos." A moment is not merely'a J
moment, but a momentico. An egg is not merely fresco (fresh),
it is fresquitico.
In these villages the schoolhouse and the Catholic church vie
with each other for prominence, standing out among the white-
washed adobe cottages with their dirt floors and red-tile roofs.
Contrasts also abound in the cities. Concrete houses with a faintly
Frank Lloyd Wright air stand cheek by jowl with colonial houses,
whose adobe walls have withstood a century of earthquakes and

16 Land of the Ticos
The connoisseur of cathedrals finds only ruins of colonial
churches, except in Heredia and Orosi. Massive and long, the
buttressed walls and twin towers of the Heredia church were
erected in 1797. Black-shawled women have slipped through its
doors for almost a hundred and fifty years. Bought in Peru by
the Spanish nobleman Don Pedro Solares as a penance for mar-
rying a daughter of his mistress, the bells have tolled for gen-
erations of deaths and births and weddings. When they call the
faithful for the evening rosary, the church is at its loveliest.
Against the age-blackened walls, their moss and stains darkened
by the rain, the colored windows glow warmly among the palm
trees in the churchyard.
To the archaeologist the treasures of Chorotega and other In-
dian art are fascinating. To the lover of the picturesque, Guana-
caste has an incomparable flavor. On the central plateau, color
abounds in the brightly painted oxcarts, the prodigal flowers, the
bustle of the markets on Saturday, the religious street processions,
lavish with images, costumes, and Spanish traditions.
The Spanish heritage has tended to turn men of talent to litera-
ture and philosophy rather than to science. The student of litera-
ture finds that "the meditation" has been a favorite form among
Costa Rican writers. Poetry and stories have preserved the old
customs and speech. But a strongly realistic trend is evident among
the young writers, who seem socially conscious, and some, like
Fabian Dobles, even remind one of John Steinbeck.
One can learn much about a country from the things in which
it takes greatest pride.
"We have more teachers than soldiers."
"We are one of the whitest nations; we have progressed because
we are not bothered by inferior races."
"When a neighbor is sick, we all run to help."
"Our soil is so fertile a stick will grow; nobody starves to
death here."



~--s-~3: r_
'4;.:x~ ~~~I~
~ Jlr
:~c ---I'

Land of the Ticos 17
"We are good Catholics, but not fanatics."
"Travelers always admire our pretty girls."
"Our presidents stay in for four years. Right now we have
four living expresidents; sometimes we have had as many as seven
or eight."
"In Costa Rica we don't have classes-there are rich and poor,
but the rich are not so rich as in some countries, and the poor
are not so poor. No one feels inferior to anyone else."
"We have a better democracy than many other countries."
This picture of Costa Rica as a peaceful Eden where progress,
brotherhood, and democracy reign has been reflected by writers
and travelers for a number of decades. Usually the people are
all-too-delighted to receive the compliments, but one secretary of
education complained to a foreign journalist: "The tourists who
visit us have damaged our country a lot, telling us that it is the
most beautiful, the most perfect country, the one which best
understands democracy, which has the highest culture. This has
been morphine which has put us to sleep satisfied and impeded our
efforts." Others say the opposite: "Writers have come here and
stayed two or three days, and then written only about our miseries
and our defects."
Intimate knowledge of the life and people of a country cannot
be gained by flying journalists or by research workers in a library. /
Living almost a year in a town where there is only one other
American couple and several months in other parts of the re-
public, on the other hand, does provide real insight to those
who are genuinely interested in seeing what goes on about them.
The writers of this account were accepted as an integral part
of the community because of their roles as an exchange professor
and his wife.
Questionnaires, interviews, and the reading of books result in a
cold mass of data on the life of a community. But sharing that
life equips one to give flesh-and-blood reality to such data. Going

18 Land of the Ticos
to weddings, teaching, shopping, visiting schools, attending
dances, movies, church services, and club meetings, opening
the door to beggars and fruitvenders, talking politics on the street
-thus one may learn how the people of Costa Rica's central
plateau live. How do they choose their mates, educate their chil-
dren, earn their living, elect their rulers, have fun, worship God?
That is what we shall try to tell.



"He bought me a shawl and a straw hat, two chairs, a table,
a saint, and a bed. They gave us a pieza and after it was
whitewashed he made me a big stove." 1

S* ELL THEM we don't live in trees," our Tico friends fre-
quently pleaded, resentful of the prevalence of the belief
that Central America is populated by savages. Costa
Ricans may live in the tropics and have their share of jungles, but
their existence is neither primitive nor idyllic. Intensely proud
of their national culture, they idealize the simple home of the
poor peon sentimentally, wear the national costume to campesino
dances, and cling to traditional peasant dishes. While they ro-
manticize poverty, they want no foreigner to miss seeing the
modern houses of wealthy plantation owners in San Jose's suburbs
or fail to note the up-to-the-minute dresses of the semoritas stroll-
ing in the park.
Costa Ricans like to tell visitors that their country has no class
"In other Central American countries," they say, "you see
only the very rich and the very poor. Here the rich are not very
rich, and the poor are not very poor. We judge people by their
virtue, education, and capacities. In other countries it is important
to know who your father was, but not with us."
Though this is true to some degree, we find that Costa Ricans
are very conscious of class. They frequently employ such terms
as "high life," "society," "principal families," "workers," "no-
body," "humble people," "peons," "el pueblo," (the people) and
1 Aquildo Echeverria, "Diilogo," in Concherias, p. z13.

20 Class and Everyday Living
"campesinos" (country people). It is much easier to distinguish
the various classes by their clothing than it is in the United
States. The poor are barefoot and ragged; poor girls never wear
hats. Other classes, however, are hard to distinguish by clothes,
for the middle class dresses beyond its means. Questions one Costa
Rican asks to help place another on his rung of the social ladder
include: "Who is his father?" "With whom does he associate?"
"Which social club does he attend?" "Where did he go to school?"
and "What does he do?"
Money, family, education, occupation, friendships, savoir
faire, and politics all help to determine a person's position on the
social ladder; and the greatest of these is money. Education is
important--Costa Ricans' highest praise of a person is that he is
muy culto (very cultured). Occupation is also important-man-
ual labor is despised, although wages are sometimes higher than
are salaries for white-collar jobs. But both education and occupa-
tion depend largely upon money, as well as determine how much
money one will earn.
SjMoney alone is not all-powerful. A list of the most respected
people in several towns contains only a few of the names on the
S list of the richest. The most respected are almost invariably doc-
tors, lawyers, professors, and politicians of established standing,
whereas the wealthiest are coffee growers and cattle ranchers. Su-
perior professional reputation, a notable political record, social
service, illustrious family background--all these help admit one
to the "best social circles," while many with money are not ad-
mitted because they are "new rich," without education or family
background. The second generation of "new rich" are admitted,
providing they have used their inherited money to acquire the
education and the manners of the upper class.
Family background was once more important than wealth.
Says a woman of 30: "When I was in high school, and a girl of
the upper class gave a party, she knew exactly whom she should

Class and Everyday Living 21
invite and whom she should not, for it was understood that this
person 'belonged' and that one did not. Now it is hard to tell; class
lines are not sharp." "When I married, over twenty years ago," a .PX
says a middle-class woman, "everyone had to know all about my
fiance and his relatives on both sides and way back, their health,
reputation, etc. Not any more."
Each town has a group of families known as the families prin-
cipales, whose status has been secure for several generations. These
are so closely interrelated that it is asserted that all presidents-
except three, whose ancestors came from other countries-are
related. Some of the principal families claim noble Spanish an-
cestry; old Cartago has such an aristocracy. Little importance,
however, is given to "blue blood" in Costa Rica, though one
occasionally sees coats of arms and genealogies paraded in the
newspapers by class-conscious society editors. The forebears of
whom Costa Ricans are proudest are presidents, even though
many of them began as humble men; Costa Ricans love to re-
count the words of a political speaker, "don Cleto (Gonzalez
Viquez) was born barefoot." Many upper-class families are de-
scendants of some peasant who "made good," but they do not
boast of it. That money is more important than family is shown
by the fact that upper-class families have relatives on every level 4
of the social scale.
The shift from family to money as the chief determinant of ;
class has made class lines less definite and climbing easier. At the
same time, there has been a trend away from economic democracy.
The distance from the top to the bottom of the social ladder has
increased-the peasants becoming landless peons, the rich grow-
ing richer, and the enormous gap between them being filled by
a growing middle class.
In the country village, the community leaders-the priest,
school teachers, the political chief, and the well-to-do peasant, or
gamonal, whose favor is sought by the city politicians-are the

22 Class and Everyday Living
most respected and influential people. Some shopkeepers and
owners of soap or candle factories may have more money, but
they are not considered upper class, for they are usually unedu-
cated. Most of the inhabitants of the village and the surrounding
fincas are campesinos-barefoot peons who work in the coffee
groves or cane fields and have no property of their own, and
peasants, also barefoot and poor, who own a couple of acres of
land, a little house, and a yoke of oxen. City people also refer
contemptuously to the gamonal as a campesino, and do not accept
him in "society." Conservative, religious, and hard-working, he
cares little about the ostentations and modern ideals of the city
social set, but his children often attain them through the educa-
tion and the friendships which money makes possible.
In the larger towns, such as the provincial capitals, two main
classes are distinguished: the clase social ("social" class) and the
clase obrera ("working" class). Both these classes include a wide
variety of people. In Heredia, for example, the social class includes
not only the wealthy coffee planters and leading professionals
and businessmen but also municipal employees earning $30 a
month in white-collar jobs and teachers earning as little as $16.
All these types mingle at large parties and in the social club. But
the wealthier are exclusive in their small parties and also mix
with the "high society" of the capital; they include the children
of a gamonal who began as a peon, became a leading coffee planter,
and was able to educate his children abroad, who is one of the
favorite examples of a man who "made good." It is relatively
easy for a person at the bottom of this class to move upward,
because he is moving within the clase social.
The clase obrera is an even larger group. Its members are classed
along with the campesinos as el pueblo-the populace. These in-
clude jornaleros, or day laborers, who earn less than half a dollar
a day, servants, cobblers, venders, artisans. Some members of
this class-such as small shopkeepers, shoemakers, cabinetmakers,

Class and Everyday Living 23
and tailors who own their own shops--earn more than do many
of the social class; but their education is usually inferior and their
work is manual, so they are not accepted in "society." They have
a "social club" of their own. Children of this class may climb
by attending high school, where they mix with children of the
"social" class.
In the capital there is a wider range of classes and a tendency to
make sharper distinctions than elsewhere. The parasitic poor who
beg or steal and turn to the Patronato for aid and the peons who
earn starvation wages are at the bottom of the social scale. The
working class includes more factory workers, bus and taxi drivers,
policemen, and servants than it does in the towns and villages,
and they are somewhat more class conscious. Better educational
opportunities in the capital make it possible for intelligent chil-
dren of the working class to enter the middle class.
Instead of a broad "social" class, a middle class and an upper
class are distinguished, and of course in a detailed study even
these two classes could easily be subdivided. The large middle class
is composed of office workers, professionals, teachers, and small
businessmen who cannot mingle in society because they lack
money or family background. It is, on the whole, relatively poorer
than the North American middle class; in fact, each class is poorer
in Costa Rica than the corresponding class in the United States.
The sociedad (society) includes leading professionals who be-
long to the families principles, well-to-do businessmen, coffee
planters, and members of a wealthy group called the "high life,"
who have an attractive home, several farms, and two or three cars
and spend some time in traveling. In San Jose there is also a large
foreign colony, including diplomats and the heads of large busi-
nesses, who are part of high society and often entertain lavishly,
but do not mix much with Costa Ricans. The doings of society
are related at length on the society pages of the daily papers, but
middle-class people often pay to have their pictures published on

24 Class and Everyday Living
their birthdays, for weddings, engagements, and when their first
child is born. Paid items are written in a conventional flowery
manner, while others mention that the person thus honored is a
"member of the high society" of the city and often even go into
his genealogy.
Because the fiction that Costa Rica has no class divisions is
so generally accepted and because there is some opportunity for
climbing, the divisions that exist do not arouse much resentment.
The lower class-insecure, unorganized, inarticulate--are re-
signed to their lack of opportunity for advancement. Cada uno
en su lugar (Everyone in his place) and Cada oveja con su pareja
(Birds of a feather flock together), they philosophize. They look
up to the rich, but do not really feel very inferior. The middle
class regard themselves as the backbone of the country and take
pride in their own virtues-respectability, morality, desire for
education, activity in church and charities. While they idealize
"our campesinos" as simple, honest, and hard working, they be-
lieve their own morals superior. They are likely to say that "only
money counts" in the upper class, thus belittling them, and to
accuse them of immorality, idleness, and extravagance. The upper
class look down upon the lower classes as "humble people," or
"good people, but nobody," stressing the importance of family
and money.
Especially in the villages and small towns, where social activities
are few, there is much informal mixing of people of different
standing, and nowhere is there much contempt or resentment
by one class for another. In spite of this democratic attitude,
one's class standing is closely related to his education, family life,
recreational activities, and standard of living.
During our year in Heredia we lived in one of the rambling
one-story houses built when the coffee trade was growing in the
last century. Its construction eloquently represents the old way
of life, when even the upper class lived simply and worked hard.

Class and Everyday Living 25
Its fourteen rooms open onto the front hall, the central patio,
and the big back yard. The thick walls of bajareque-adobe,
broken tile, and cane on a wooden framework-have stood a
hundred years of rain and earthquakes. Floors and ceilings are of
fine wood. In the corridor around the patio the walls are white-
washed and the floor is of fire-baked red brick. It is easy to im-
agine, from the reading of histories, that water-color paintings
used to adorn the corridor walls-here a landscape, there a Mother
Goose illustration, a snow scene, or a seascape.
In the shade of the bougainvillaea and poinsettias in the patio
still grow some of the herbs-camomile, dill, and mint-which
used to be kept on hand for illness. Pots of ferns hang from the
eaves around the patio, and in March orchids bloom among the
lichens on the tile roof. A generation ago horses, chickens, a pig
or two, and even a couple of cows were kept in the back yard.
The kitchen, with its big stone oven, shaped like a beehive, was
also there.
A few old families still live in such rambling houses, and some
villagers even keep animals. But most homes are smaller and more
conveniently arranged. The patio has shrunk to a utilitarian
back yard in which to hang the laundry or has been converted
into a large room called a "hall." Farm homes are still "crude,
dark, airless, and low," as described by nineteenth-century travel-
ers. They are largely grouped in villages, but there are said to be
more scattered and isolated farmhouses in Costa Rica than else-
where in Central America.
Climate and tradition give all Costa Rican houses something
in common. They are low, primarily because of the danger of
earthquakes; two-story houses are the exception, and the coun-
try's highest building, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica in San Jose,
boasts only five floors. Basements, furnaces, and radiators are not
needed, though foreigners find it desirable to have fireplaces for
use in the evenings and on rainy days. The old houses are humid

26 Class and Everyday Living
because they lack foundations. Picturesque red tile roofs are giv-
ing way, especially in poor-quality houses, to the less attractive
corrugated iron, said to be safer in earthquakes. New houses, how-
ever, use improved light-weight tiles that can be nailed; they
keep temperature even, whereas the metal roofs allow heat and
cold to penetrate easily. Most of the adobe houses of San Jose
and Cartago have been demolished by earthquakes, and frame,
bajareque, and reinforced concrete structures have replaced them.
In regions less severely shaken by quakes, abode houses still stand.
Most houses are one-family structures. Only in San Jose are
there a few apartment houses. Homes do not seem as important
S to the Costa Ricans as do clothes. Exteriors of the one-story houses,
typically flush with each other and with the sidewalk, are not im-
pressive. It is difficult to guess the interior from the outside.
One room-the sala or formal parlor, used only for callers-
is as reliable an index of the economic and cultural status of the
family as is the American livingroom. Even poor families who
have only two rooms besides the kitchen in their dirt-floored
house save one for the sala, everyone crowding into one room to
sleep; sometimes it is necessary to place a bed in one corner of
the sala. Every sala has a formal arrangement: a little table in the
center, with chairs in a stiff circle around it. The quality of
the furniture, the nature of the knick-knacks, the presence or
absence of books, a piano, and portraits of ancestors tell much
about the family.
Set among flowers and coffee trees, the whitewashed J d walls
and red tiles of peasant homes make a pleasing picture. The two
or three rooms usually have a dirt floor and few windows. The
roof of the veranda rests on the cut trunks of trees; from its
eaves hang pots of ferns and orchids. In its shade, where the
housewife can see all the passersby while she washes clothes, may
be a pila. This is a rectangular block of concrete, half of which
is a waist-high hollow basin for rubbing clothes, the other half

Class and Everyday Living 27
a trough for water from the tap which is constantly running.
The poor often have a mere slab of stone beside a tap. A lean-to
for the oxcart, the privy, and a little plot of coffee trees and
chayotes are back of the house. On the whitewashed walls of
the sala hang cheap prints of saints and family photographs. The
sewing machine occupies a prominent place. Wooden benches
and tables, a wooden bedstead or two, and a chest for clothing
complete the furnishings. Smoke from the makeshift stove in the
kitchen has blackened the walls in finding its way out under the
The peon who earns 27 to 54 cents a day, usually in the coffee
groves, is loaned or pays a small rent for a box-like wooden shack
of wide boards located on the finca. No glass is in the windows,
and at night the shutters are closed to keep out the night air.
Although families of five or six often live in one room, most
such houses have two or three partitions. The tiny sala contains
a rickety wooden table on which is a fly-specked vase of artificial
flowers. One wall is entirely covered with pictures of saints, be-
fore which flowers or ferns are kept. Family photographs and a
religious almanac given away by an aspirin company adorn
another wall, and from some cantina (tavern) the laborer has
brought home a poster of a Chesterfield girl holding a Christmas-
wrapped package of cigarettes.
The dark bedroom contains a couple of narrow wooden bed-
steads with hide stretched between the sides for springs; on these
sleep the parents and four or five children. Often the only blankets
are burlap sacks; but if there are blankets, they are usually red,
for these are believed to be warmer. A line strung across the room
sags under the weight of clothes. In one corner stands a wooden
chest. If the family is large, another bed must be put into the sala.
A waist-high mound of adobe or a brick-topped table holds
the kitchen fire. On a few bricks stands the pot of beans. On
another table are the stone metate for grinding corn and a few

28 Class and Everyday Living
dishes. A chicken is picking crumbs from the dirt floor. Back
of the house are a small heap of firewood and the privy. Candles
or one feeble electric bulb furnish light at night.
Equally badly housed, the city worker has even less privacy
and air. He lives in some poor section, such as that by the rail-
road tracks, in one of a series of piezas, adjoining two-room shacks,
where as many as sixteen families share a common privy, shower,
and garbage can in a muddy central patio. These houses, usually
owned by well-to-do men, rent for as little as $I.25 a month in
Heredia. In these piezas live most of the families who turn to the
Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (National Charity for Chil-
dren) for aid. One social investigator found that the majority of
the 350 families in her files, averaging 5.7 persons, live in one
room and a kitchen.2 There is a high percentage of mobility in
such districts, the renter often leaving one pieza, owing back
rent, only to move into another.
The houses of small tradesmen or artisans who own their own
shops have more privacy, better furniture, more light, and floors
of wood or tile rather than dirt, which harbors intestinal parasites.
Located near the center of town, the home of a Heredia profes-
sional man or businessman of the middle class is flush with the
sidewalk and with the neighboring houses, having a back yard
enclosed by a wall. On each side of a hall leading directly to this
yard rooms are symmetrically arranged. The two front rooms
are the sala and the master bedroom. Another bedroom and the
diningroom, the kitchen and a back yard, with a pila, complete
the manage.
Sala furniture is of mahogany or cedar, made in one of the
town's little cabinet shops and sometimes upholstered. It is almost
invariably arranged stiffly around a small table covered by a
crocheted cloth and holding an ornament or a vase of flowers.
There may be a piano, on which stand photographs of relatives.
2 Margarita de Elizondo, in Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, Dies aios de labor, p. 68.

Class and Everyday Living 29
On the wall, usually papered in a bold pattern, hang diplomas,
lithographs of landscapes or bright religious pictures. In some
homes large portraits of ancestors are prominent.
In the bedrooms are wardrobes, for houses rarely have built-in
closets. The diningroom is decorated with pictures of still lifes or
bright magazine pictures of food. Many homes of the more well-
to-do have electric stoves, but the small wood-burning range is
more common. Refrigerators are increasingly common. Washing
machines are few; labor is cheap, and clothes are still washed in
the stone pila, in the back yard where there is a fruit tree or two
and a line for clothes. The home is likely to have modern plumb-
ing, but bathtubs are rare, for the cold shower is not only cheaper
but is also considered more healthful in the climate, and is said
to keep one young.
Unlike Americans, Costa Ricans have long preferred the center
of town as the most desirable location for a home. In the past,
the aristocrats have usually lived near the central square or parque.
Some of the older houses near the square are spacious and have
an old-fashioned elegance. But the present trend is away from
the center, as is seen in Heredia. Cantinas, a dance hall, and shops
occupy what used to be the homes of the principal families fac-
ing the square. The new rich erect completely modern homes
on the edge of the town or in its suburbs. Middle-class profes-
sionals and businessmen still live within a short radius of the
central square. The poor occupy broken-down houses in all parts
of the city and are grouped in several districts by the railroad
tracks and on the edges of town.
Home ownership is not very difficult, since housing costs are
low. Renters are mainly the very poor. A government housing
program is designed to aid them, but it reaches the middle class,
who pay a monthly rent equal to more than half the wage of the
average peon. Half the Costa Ricans are home owners, the highest
percentage being in Guanacaste, Alajuela, and Heredia, the least

30 Class and Everyday Living
in Lim6n.8 Owning one's own home and a little bit of land is
the main ambition of the campesinos. Says a servant girl from a
village near Heredia: "Almost everyone in the country has his
own house or is saving for it. The ambition of every campesino
is to own his own house, though it be merely a hut and a tiny
piece of land with a few coffee and plantain trees and a chayote
vine. In the city the people would rather dress well and eat well
and have servants and go on paying rent for years. In the country
everyone works hard and sacrifices other things to save for his
own home."
Even San Jose boasts few impressive public buildings. The
Spanish-style airport building, the National Bank, the Gran
Hotel Costa Rica, and the ornate National Theater are the only
outstanding structures. The National Palace, the National Library
and the president's home are all very ordinary. The streets, always
laid out so that they run straight east and west and north and south,
are usually paved in the leading towns, but cobblestones remain
even in Heredia. Roofs project far over the sidewalk to protect the
passersby from rain, while eave troughs and deep gutters carry
off the water. Sewage disposal is still far from modern, much
of the waste water flowing through open gutters. The United
States Office of the Co-ordinator of Inter-American Affairs re-
cently completed the work of modernizing the sewage disposal
system of Heredia.
Every town has its central square, where the people gather on
gala occasions, such as for a band concert or after mass, where
mothers and nursemaids bring the children for sunshine and
students and lovers chat on the benches. Some towns have parks
and playgrounds in addition to the central square.
The water supply has been a problem ever since colonial days.
In most places the water is polluted with intestinal parasites such
as amoebas, which contribute to the high mortality rate among
a Assodci6n Ala, Heredia, p. 270.

Class and Everyday Living 31
children and cause adults to complain incessantly of liver trouble.
In the absence of adequate municipal facilities for its purifica-
tion, water should be boiled for twenty minutes before drinking,
but few people bother to do this. Surface vegetables are also in-
fested, largely because animal fertilizer is used. But with a large
annual local appropriation and the aid of a Sanitation Commis-
sion from the United States, progress toward the solution of these
and other problems is being made.
In the little house of the peon, the housewife rises at four
o'clock, lights the fire, grinds a little corn, makes coffee, and
prepares the luncheon her husband will eat at nine o'clock. This
consists of cold black beans, tortillas, agua dulce (water boiled
with brown sugar), and occasionally cheese, a hard-boiled egg,
or cold roast meat. He rises at five-or earlier if he has a long
distance to walk-downs his coffee and bread, and is at work by
six. After drinking a cup of coffee the housewife grinds more
corn, enough for the day's tortillas. Though grinding with a
stone roller on the stone metate is still a tedious job, consuming an
hour or two of every day, performed in exactly the same way
in which the Indians used to do it, she likes the task, for it was
the first thing she learned to do when a little girl of five or six.
She may grind it first in a hand mill to break up the grains, but
she finishes the work on the stone, for she must have it fine for
good dough. Many send a child with a bowl of cooked corn to
join the early-morning line at the mill, where it is ground to a
smooth paste. She shapes the tortillas dexterously by hand until
they are ideally round and thin and browns them slightly on a
The children rise at six and breakfast on coffee and tortillas
or bread with natilla (thick sour cream). Those of school age must
be in class by seven. The mother sweeps and dusts, makes the beds,
washes the children, and prepares lunch at about ten. Beans, rice,
and tortillas are never lacking if they can afford all three, nor is

32 Class and Everyday Living
the cup of agua dulce. If times are good, they have meat or maca-
roni and milk. Much oil and lard are used in cooking.
In harvest season the mother may spend the afternoon picking
coffee; but ordinarily after lunch she washes clothes, rubbing
them in the stone pila or in a nearby stream, soaping them, and
leaving them out on the grass to whiten in the sun, rain, and dew
for a day or two. Clothes already whitened she rinses and hangs
on a barbed wire or spreads on the grass to dry. Clothes washed
the preceding day she irons with a flatiron heated on the stove.
She has never seen a washing machine, and so far as laundry is
concerned every day is Monday to her.
Shortly after two, when her husband returns from work, there
is a pause for coffee. Then she puts black beans on the stove to
cook for the following day, boiling them for about three hours
before adding salt. She also puts the dried corn on, with lime
or ashes to soften it, for the next day's tortillas. From the coffee
trees behind the house or from the leather shoulder bags filled by
her husband on his Sunday trip to market, she has secured green
coffee. She toasts and grinds this, making a fine powder which
she puts into a flannel bag, and through which she pours water
for a thick black brew to be served with hot milk.
Supper is served at four or five. Since noon she has had a soup
bone cooking and has added green plantains or guineos (cousins
of the banana) and chayotes (a kind of squash) to this olla de
care (kettle of meat). With prices high, many families can
afford this dish only on Sundays; they have only rice and black
beans on other days. They may have a couple of hens, but two
eggs sell for eight cents, the price of enough "meat with bone"
for a stew, which goes further, the other ingredients being taken
from the back yard or the shade trees in the coffee plantation.
Lettuce, fruits, peas, carrots, tomatoes, besides being too ex-
pensive, are considered "all water" by the older people, who
say so when the children quote lessons on diet from their school-

Class and Everyday Living 33
books. "We aren't rabbits to eat leaves," they say. That lemons
thin the blood and bananas give malaria is also believed.
After supper the laborer plays with the children, and his wife
sews or finishes ironing. By seven or eight the whole family is
asleep, except for the husband, who may linger an hour in the
nearby pulperia (small general store) listening to the radio or
playing billiards.
The wife of a lawyer, dentist, or businessman has a servant
to do her housework; help is regarded as essential by any woman j
with even the slimmest social pretensions. Even public employees
with salaries of only $26 a month try to have servants, who are
obtainable, except in San Jose, for from $ i.oo to $5.oo a month-
untrained country girls who come to town to earn money for
prettier clothes, to help their families, or to get away from the
restrictions of home life. Heredia women are surprised to hear
that only y percent of American families have servants, but they
say, "Oh, but there you do everything by electricity and you eat
more simply." Women who have lived in the United States and
have done their own housework find life easier in Costa Rica.
Wealthier families like to have at least three female servants:
a cook, a maid for housework, and a nursemaid. It might be said
that almost all those who have servants are of the "social" class.
A woman of the "social" class will give up almost anything else
before parting with her servant. The "servant problem" is a
favorite topic of conversation. Formerly, very few families had
servants, and they were usually orphan girls raised in the home
from childhood or poor relatives. Now there is usually a servant
to do the washing and the heavy cleaning, even if the daughters
are learning domestic tasks.
A "social" class family rises about five-thirty, if there are chil-
dren to send off to school by seven. They breakfast on bread and
butter with coffee, and fruit if they are vitamin conscious. Dur-
ing the morning the servant cleans, using a broom and dry mop

34 Class and Everyday Living
to polish the waxed wooden floors, a wet mop on the tile. Rugs
are seldom used, and vacuum cleaners are unknown. The house-
wife takes care of the children if she does not have a special
nursemaid, bakes cakes, and goes to the market at least once or
twice a week to select the "best buys" and to meet her friends.-
There are no self-service groceries and no deliveries in Heredia.
Rich and poor alike shop at the central market, where everything
from soap to meat is sold. For special delicacies they may go to
a cantina that carries imported cookies, fruits, candies, and canned
Luncheon is served at eleven-thirty. Rice, cooked in the Costa
Rican manner, appears even on the table of the best families twice
a day. It is washed, drained, and toasted in lard or butter in which
a few diced onions have been cooked. Then boiling water is added,
double the amount of the rice, and it is cooked without stirring
until every kernel stands out. Tomatoes, meats, peppers, and
vegetables add variety to the rice dish. Black beans and tortillas
are never lacking, and fried plantain is often present. If the family
is large, the maid may have ground the corn-even the richest
home still has its metate-but smaller social-class families buy
their tortillas. The lectures and articles to which housewives have
been subjected in past years result in the serving of more salads
and cooked vegetables. Milk, beefsteak, potatoes, and a slice of
pineapple or papaya round out a typical midday meal. Costa
Ricans are heavy eaters.
Coffee with cheese or corn pastries or cake is served at two or
three o'clock. The housewife may then make a few informal calls
or embroider or sew. There are no matinees, and there is little or
no card playing and very few clubs to attend in the afternoon.
Sewing is the most respectable of all the household tasks; many
women who would not think of cleaning, cooking, or marketing
make their own clothes and their children's clothes.
The whole family shares a six-o'clock dinner; there are few

Class and Everyday Living 35
outside activities to separate them at mealtime. The same sort of
olla de came as is the main supper dish of the country people has
been boiling since noon. A soup is made of the broth, perhaps
with some macaroni added. Rice, black beans, meat, the vegeta-
bles from the olla, a picadillo of green beans cut up fine and cooked
with diced potatoes, a dessert, and coffee complete a typical meal.
The art of cooking is handed down from mother to daughter,
and cookbooks or magazines are little used. Change has been
slowly effected through cooking courses in grades three to six of
the schools. But few of the country girls reach these grades, and
since they are the servants, even the city diet changes little. Bread
used to be baked in the home, and a huge oven could then be
found in every house; but bakeries have now largely taken over
this function.
Costa Rica, being an agricultural country, imports little food
except flour. Canned and packaged foods are used only for special
parties and during Holy Week, when cooking is frowned upon
and such tinned stuffs as salmon and sardines are bought even
by the poor. Dry cereals, canned vegetables, easy-to-cook meats,
and soups are not much used. Nonetheless, a writer pleads:
Our zeal to imitate the foreigner has made us abandon our good food.
Badly nourished, we lack vigor and enthusiasm for politics, for sane
polemics, enterprises, and love. We lack today great writers, daring
entrepreneurs. We won the war of I856 because our soldiers ate toto-
postes, cheese, meat, dulce, coffee, and such solid nutrients. There is an
intimate relation between love of country and a taste for picadillos and
tortillas. Ricardo Jimenez prefers picadillo, came de olla and tortillas.
Do our women want the vote? Magnificent! But let us deny it to her
who does not know how to prepare a picadillo, tamales, beans, coffee,
and bake a chicken. We have lost our classic, suave, nutritious, and
savory national cooking.'
If the literary patriot has pleaded that cooking traditions be
kept alive, doctors and teachers have striven to make the people
4 Chac6n Trejos, Tradicidncs costarricenses, p. 6y.

36 Class and Everyday Living
plant and use more fruits and vegetables, and housewives have re-
belled against the time-consuming rituals of the traditional diet.
Meals have thus become simpler and better balanced among the
more educated class.5
Few Costa Ricans are ostentatious about their homes or their
food, but almost every Costa Rican dresses as well as he can afford
to-or better. Even the poorest country girls are no longer satis-
fied with such clothing as Wilhelm Marr described in 18 z: "Slim,
delicately beautiful country girls, who returned my friendly
greeting with even greater friendliness, wore blouses of a dazzling
whiteness, skirts of indigo blue beneath whose folds showed small,
delicate bare feet." 6
A hundred years earlier, women attended mass in dresses of
tree-bark fiber and shawls of green flannel; many women, in
turn, wore the same dress. For a long time after Costa Rica gained
its independence the typical feminine costume was a low-necked
white blouse with a starched ruffle, and a long, full skirt of
bright cretonne or sateen. A gay kerchief covered the neck,
around which hung a pendant on a black velvet ribbon. For
church one added a black shawl or a bright scarf woven by
Guatemalan Indians.
The more sophisticated adopted European modes. Increasing
commerce and travel relegated the older costume to the country;
only here and there is it still to be found-usually worn by an
old lady. Resurrected for "campesino dances" in the towns, the
bright colors and beribboned black braids seem more appropriate
and becoming to the Ticas than do the latest silhouettes and
coiffures. At such festivities high boots, breeches, neckerchiefs,
straw hats, and heavy mustaches, reminiscent of their grand-
parents' garb, turn the usually soberly-dressed Ticos into comic
5 Costa Ricans appear to be several inches shorter, on the average, than are Americans.
This is no doubt due in part to the deficiencies of their diet.
*Fernindez Guardia, Costa Rica en el siglo XIX, p. I r.

Class and Everyday Living 37
Present-day clothing is similar to that worn in springtime in
Europe and the United States. White drill and cork helmets are
more at home in the ports than on the central plateau. In the
evenings women wear light wraps. An umbrella is indispensable
from May to November.
Ready-made clothes are almost all imported and high-priced.
Materials and patterns are now mostly American. Many poor girls
aspire no higher than to be seamstresses. Numerous tailor shops,
seamstresses, and dry goods stores indicate that the widely dif-
fused clothing industry has not succumbed to its rival, the home
sewing machine.
In Costa Rica women's street clothes reflect a more sedentary
life and greater emphasis on femininity than in the United States.
Slacks are rarely worn; shorts, never. Low heels and tailored suits
mark the wearer as North American, for except in her school uni-
form, the Costa Rican girl does not care to appear in skirt and
blouse; she prefers silk or rayon dresses and high heels. On holidays
and Sundays those who can afford to do so add a veiled hat, gloves,
and a fur piece-even in warm weather-and outshine their less
frivolously dressed North American sisters at the movies or in
the park. Such elaborate wardrobes are decried by many as
"excessive luxuries," acquired by sacrificing things that are more
Both middle and upper classes place great emphasis upon con-
spicuous consumption of wealth,7 especially with regard to cloth-
ing and recreation. At the central park on a Sunday evening in
San Jose girls whom one knows to be relatively poor may be seen
7 Mario Sancho, critical of his country in general, has no patience with the "shabby
ostentations" of the wealthy, who do not give to charity and establish charitable in-
stitutions as did the rich formerly. "As great as their niggardliness is their frivolity,
their ignorant complacency in the ostentation of money, bad taste, bad manners, ridic-
ulous and vain satisfactions." But the middle class does not escape censure either; he
says most of them live with more luxury than they should, with "really useless ex-
penses, such as drinking in the club . or the elegant pretensions of a marriageable
daughter .. [that] result in a conflict with the resources of the poor father of the
family." Costa Rica: Smiza Centroamericana, pp. 8, z2.

38 Class and Everyday Living
wearing dresses that cost a month's pay, fur jackets, and imported
hats. It is said that many economize on everything else, even food,
in order to own lovely clothes and often are still in debt for what
they wear. Cars, taxis, travel, theater going, and expensive night
clubs are indulged in by many who really cannot afford them
because they want to be accepted socially. This love of luxury is
said to have blossomed in the relatively prosperous period of the
late twenties.
Servant girls imitate their more affluent sisters from the knees
up-for few wear shoes except on Sundays, and even then they
usually wear socks rather than stockings, which are too expensive
for them. Working-class men wear tan drill trousers and shirts,
with rolled- p sleeves, and own a dark suit, or at least a coat,
for special occasions, though they may not have shoes. At a given
time probably much less than half the adult population, women
included, would be wearing shoes. The campesino-who in the
newspaper caricature represents the Tico equivalent of John Q.
Public-is barefoot, his light-colored trousers are stained with
mud from the country roads, a blue denim apron falls almost to
his knees, a kerchief is around his neck, a straw hat is worn at a
rakish angle, his ox goad is in his hand and his rope or leather bag
slung over his shoulder. His wife wears an old black silk dress,
given her by the wife of the finca owner, or one of cotton print
which she has made for herself. Neither she nor her children have
shoes, except, perhaps, a pair to wear on Sunday. The children
have few clothes-the boys wearing short drill pants, the girls,
dresses handed down by richer families; they may not even have
money for a school uniform. Usually the country people are clean
in spite of one-room houses and bad food, since their clothes are
washed often and the cold shower is in frequent use.
The monthly expenditures of forty Heredia families on various
economic levels were studied.8 Since the budget habit is almost
8 Rosario Solera, Normal School.

Class and Everyday Living 39
nonexistent, the data are not wholly reliable, but they do indicate
a great deal about the life of Costa Rican families.

Number of families 14 5 7 7 3 4
Averageincome $8.65 $24.90 $52.oo $86.56 $123.44 $184.90
Average number in
family 5 4.03 6.57 7.85 10.3 14.5
Percentage spent on
Food 75.1 52.65 45.0 55.05 50.60 61.5o
Rent 4.4a 4.8 b 9.7 8.4 7.23 5.06
Clothing 14.1 21.45 i1.8 io.6o 12.04 9.70
Medicine 1.8 x.56 5.4 4.30 7.45 5.10
Education o.o o.oo 3.5 1.70 8.40 4.60
Servants o.o 2.04 1.4 4.80 5.30 4.80
Amusement 4.1 7.00 4.2 4.20 3.37 5-40
Extras 0.5 10.50 19.0 10.95 5.6I 3.84
a Seven pay no rent. b Three pay no rent. c One pays no rent.

Several striking facts stand out in this table: the variation in
the size of the household, the high percentages spent on food
and clothing, and the low percentage spent on rent.
The poorest households in our sample average five persons;
those with an income of $24.90 average 4.03 persons. Thereafter,
the size increases with every group, for "social-class" families have
a lower infant mortality, employ as many as three servants, and
are anxious to keep the family together, including self-supporting
grown children, in-laws, aunts, and grandparents living in the
same house. This desire is often practical as well as sentimental;
the mutual aid and the economies effected make it possible to
spend more on clothes and comforts.
The fourteen families who spent an average of 75 percent on
food are without exception coffee peons with an income of about
two dollars a week. The $6.so spent monthly for food gives each

40 Class and Everyday Living
person only $1.30 a month for food. In these days of high prices
this is barely enough for short rations of corn, beans, rice, crude
sugar for agua dulce, lard to cook with, and coffee. Perhaps once
a week, on payday, the family can afford a fairly nutritious meal
of olla de came. With each additional child, the problem of nutri-
tion is more pressing, for wages do not increase.
To our door came an orange vender, a gaunt, toothless, stunted
woman with gray hair. With her were two daughters, of eight
and eleven. They were thin, with dark shadows under their eyes.
We asked, "Why don't you give these oranges to your daughters
instead of selling them?" "Ay, with everything so expensive, it
is hard enough to get just beans and rice to fill their stomachs.
I have six more. My husband is a jornalero, works hard with the
shovel and machete on a coffee plantation, though he is sick every
day-he has a bad heart. He gets only 36 cents a day. It is the law
to pay 45 cents, but que va! He asked his last patron for whom
he worked twenty years to list him for social security; the boss
just got mad and fired him. See how my little girl's hair is turning
white because she doesn't get enough to eat?"
Formerly, when property ownership was spread among many
people, the campesinos were able to eat better. "I remember twenty
years ago when I used to walk the two miles north to Barba, [says
a Heredia housewife] there was one little house after another
with its couple of acres of ground. Then the farmers had plenty
of eggs, their own cow or two, their own pig for lard and meat.
Now all that land belongs to three or four coffee planters and
the others are reduced to peonage. They can scarcely raise cha-
yotes, because their bosses say the vine winds about the coffee trees
(some are said to encourage their peons to raise gardens). Out of
his two dollars a week a man must buy corn, beans, rice, sugar
-how can he buy milk, eggs, and vegetables?"
A similar change in land ownership also affects the city people.
Many of the social class used to have a little finca outside the

Class and Everyday Living 41

town, and the overseer brought in cartloads of corn, beans, and
sugar cane for the owners. Cows were kept at night in the back
yard, and sent out to pasture in the daytime; many also kept
chickens. Coffee and cacao were ground at home; soap, candles,
lard, and bread were made there. The family unit has become
less self-sufficient in feeding itself. Underproduction in spite of
the great fertility of the land and low incomes have combined to
keep the diet lacking in essential elements.
The more well-to-do eat heartily, but not always wisely. The
$7.85 per person spent for food in the $185 income group goes
for heavy, starchy foods, a good deal of meat, and elaborate dishes. -
In Heredia in 1942 the authors, living in a household of five,
spent about $ x2 each a month for a simple diet abundant in fruits,
vegetables, eggs, and meat.9 In San Jose, in 1943, however, they
found living costs considerably higher.
Reporting on all the countries from Panama to Mexico, the
United States Bureau of Public Roads found that although Costa
Rica has the highest standard of living of any of the Central
American countries and one of the highest of all the tropical
countries in the world, 50 percent of her national income is spent
on food.10
Clothing is an expensive item, for almost all cloth is imported,
and many are said to deny themselves proper food and housing
9 According to Engel's law, as family income rises, the percentage spent on food de-
clines. In the Costa Rican sample there is a great drop in the percentage spent on food
from the first group to the second, but the percentage remains fairly steady thereafter.
The amount spent per person varies as follows: $1.30 monthly in the group averaging
$8.65 a month income; $3.25 in the $24.90 group; $3.56 in the $$a.oo group; $6.07
in the $86.56 group; $6.06 in the $123.44 group; $7.85 in the $184.90 group.
10 The average income for all occupations, according to their admittedly sketchy
(and optimistic) estimates, is $z29 a person on the central plateau and $67 in other
regions. The national income was estimated at 6o millions in 1940, or a per capital of
less than Sxoo. In 1934 the Costa Ricans spent an estimated average of $38 for local
foodstuffs and $7.50 for imported foods. The national income was then about $9o a
person, which means that at least half this amount was spent on food. United States,
President, Proposed Inter-American Highway.

42 Class and Everyday Living
to dress luxuriously. In every group it takes a larger share of the
budget than does rent. Even the families with an income of about
$i8o spend no more than $8.00 on rent. This rent would be at
least tripled in San Jose (and sometimes goes as high as $i5o or
$200 for Americans), but a combination of factors makes rents
low in Heredia and in other towns-the comparative cheapness of
the land, simplicity of construction, slow growth of the town and
lack of demand for more houses to rent.
The first group in our sample represents a large percentage of
the Ticos, and raising their standard of living may be said to
be the basic problem of Costa Rica. They live on a poverty level
of insecurity, hunger, malnutrition, high mortality, relief pro-
vided by government and private charities, and even begging
and stealing. This group includes many men who used to own their
own fincas.11
Many think the peons are poor because of laziness, while a few
think it is because they lack intelligence.12 Others deny that
there is real poverty. "Barefoot? They think it is more comforta-
ble. Such houses! Well, that's the way they like to live," those in
more comfortable circumstances sometimes declare. In much of
the talk about social security the economic aspects are ignored
and the political issues are brought up. While the middle and
upper classes shake their heads about poverty, they take comfort
in saying, "We are very charitable; no one starves."
"We don't have social problems here," insists a professor. "Pov-
erty? Oh, not like in other countries. Here you never hear of a
person dying of hunger. Anyone can knock on doors and within
11 Their story is typified by Herrera Garcia's Vida y dolores de Juan Varela. It pic-
tures Juan working in the fields, "reflecting bitterly on the good crops of corn and
sugar which the harvest will bring-but.for him? No, for the patron. 'Not for me,
not for Ana, not for the little ones.' He was working the good earth for the patron,
and he knew it."
12 Of the 206 students polled, two-thirds of the girls and 53 percent of the boys
think "people are poor because they are lazy," but only 24 percent of the girls and 30
percent of the boys think "people are poor because they lack intelligence."

Class and Everyday Living 43
a block he will have a lunch. Our hearts say, 'Give! give! give!
Have some lunch, sleep here, sit down here.' "
If no one starves to death, many suffer from hunger and from
malnutrition which weakens their resistance to diseases. Odds
against growing old are high; half the population is under nine-
teen. Parasites attack those who do not have strong constitutions,
because they lack shoes and proper food. The indolence often
noted in Costa Ricans is probably due not so much to the climate
as to malnutrition 1' and the debilitation caused by parasites,
especially hookworm and amoebas.
The government and charitable organizations are combating
the high mortality by extending free medical services, but they
must also combat ignorance. "Herbs are better than any doctors,"
is a common saying. Instead of going to a doctor, many consult
the curanderos, quacks who use herbs or "magic"; they resort
to a doctor only when there is no longer any hope. Almost half
the deaths occur without medical attendance. "If the patient is
cured," says Ricardo Jimenez, "the miracle is of Our Lady of
the Angels, and if he dies, the doctor is to blame." The country
suffers from a shortage of doctors; in 1940 there were only 174;
97 of these were in the province of San Jose. Pharmacists number
224; dentists, only 55.14
Mortality figures show a marked decrease since the govern-
ment entered the health campaign.15 This decrease is due largely
to the increasing space given to health and nutrition in school-
books, the aid of the Patronato (National Charity for Children),
and free clinics.
Charity is the only recourse of many who find poverty and
sickness too overwhelming. Disabled men, widowed or abandoned
s According to Rodrigo Facio, the campesino should get 3,750 calories a day and
actually gets but 2,730: Revista del Instituto de Cafi, October, 194o, p. 114.
4 Lur6s, Aspectos biodemogrdficos de la poblaci6n de Costa Rica, Appendix, p. 3.
" From 1921 to x92z an average of 24.4 per x,ooo died each year, dropping to 22.7
in 19x6, z21. in 1931-35, and xg8. in 1936-40: ibid., p. 60.

44 Class and Everyday Living
women, and their children turn to the Patronato or to begging.
The tribe of Costa Rican pordioseros ("for the love of God" is
their theme) is large and persistent in spite of organized charities.
Municipal councils try to curb the number of beggars by requir-
ing each one to have a license and allowing only a certain day
a week for soliciting; but unlicensed medicants are many.
The poor are fairly resigned. "If God wills me to be poor, so
be it," they say. They profess to be happy if they are healthy and
can work. Beggars are grateful for even less. "Is yours a nice
house?" we asked one beggar boy. "Nice? No, but it's not so
bad; we don't get wet." Many beg for leftovers after mealtime.
Others want only money and ask for a "little cinco or diez."
"Dios se lo pague" (May God repay you) is the invariable thanks.
The following is a typical experience during our life in Heredia.
A woman dressed in rusty black, her hair graying, many teeth
missing, thin, wrinkled, aged, though surely less than forty, came
after seven in the evening to ask for leftovers. Her husband had
died two years earlier; he got "some disease of the blood" from his
work. The owners of the coffee finca had been good patrdnes,
but since he died they had not helped her. The question "What
do you think of social security?" brought no response-she did
not know what the new government measure meant.
"How old are you?"
"Quien sabe? [Who knows?] My mother knew, but she died,
and she never told me. Won't you give me some bread? My poor
little children are crying of hunger and I have nothing to give
"How old are they?"
"One is like this" [her hand curved in the typical gesture to
show height]; "the other like this and the little one like this."
"How old were you when you got married?"
She thought a little. "Fifteen, but I'm very old already. I had
three children who died."

Class and Everyday Living 45
"Of what?"
"Quien sabe?"
She pays $1.36 a month for a house on the edge of town and
earns the rent by grinding corn, picking wood, washing, and other
"But you should know how hard it is to pay that rent! I don't
send my children to the Patronato, they are so little. It wouldn't
be so bad to be a widow alone, but with the poor children. I had
to beg for them when my husband died; I never had to before.
And how ashamed I am! I go to church every day, to mass and
rosary. I leave my children with a neighbor. I like it in Heredia;
the people are good. But tonight I came away from the upper
park and not a penny! Some slam the door in my face. Some houses
I don't go to, but some are always good to me. Someone gave me
rice tonight. My parents were poor too; my father was a mason.
All my family is poor. Yes, there are lots of poor people. Why?
I don't know. Luck, I guess; God sends us."
Costa Rica has neither as much starvation as there is among
Chinese peasants nor the fabulous wealth created by industrial
lords, but the coffee planter and the peon who works on his finca
are increasingly far apart in the scale of living. The dirt-floored
hut of the one, his rice, beans, and tortillas, his fear of beggary
if illness or death strikes, and his bare feet are in sharp contrast
with the ostentation of his employer. But Costa Rica has what
many Latin American countries lack, for between these two ex-
tremes is a growing middle class, who own their own homes, wear
good clothes, and have self-respect and a belief that they can
better their condition through study and effort.



In seventeen hundred and thirty lovely Catalina lived in
Cartago. She gave her promise to a dashing youth who
saw her leave the Holy Thursday mass. Her father told
her of a wealthy Spaniard who asked her hand; and Cata-
lina knew that obedience was her duty. How could she
tell her father that her heart was already given? 1

IN LEAVING for the New World, the Spanish settlers broke
home ties. At first it was customary to take Indian wives;
later there was much intermarriage with the white and
mestizo women who came from Nicaragua, and some of the In-
dian strain was bred out. Family life became disorganized. Scat-
tered, poverty-stricken, and far from the churches, the country
people degenerated into promiscuity. Visiting bishops were as-
tounded at the licentiousness which prevailed in Cartago; religious
fiestas turned into orgies; few priests or rulers set an example of
moral living.2
In the late eighteenth century the colonists of each district were
commanded to group themselves around a church. The influence
of religion and community living helped restore the old Spanish
family pattern, with its traditions of paternal dominance, sub-
missiveness of women, and obedience of children.
This pattern discouraged romance, for girls had little freedom
in the choice of a mate. The boy's father usually took the initiative
by negotiating with some friend of whose daughter he approved.
When both fathers agreed to a match, the bargaining over the
1 Alfaro, "Romance hist6rico," in Petaquilla, p. 33.
2 Fernindez Guardia, Crdnicas coloniales, p. 29o.

Courtship and Marriage 47
marriage contract began. The dote, a dowry consisting of such
possessions as were possible in those arduous times--cacao, goats,
and mules-and the provision of a new home by the boy's father
were specified in the contract. Although a father might value
family background, wealth, and social position more than his
daughter's wishes, she had little choice but to take the husband
chosen for her. She would exchange one bondage for another, but
as seiora of a household she would have a better status and more
independence than she had had in her father's house. Nevertheless,
elopements, window courting, and serenades in the Spanish tradi-
tion occasionally brightened this somber picture.
Often a colonial daughter married a cousin or an uncle. There
were few white families. As late as 1723 the capital city, Cartago,
consisted of seventy adobe houses. The widely separated settlers
had no means of communication other than mule trails. These
conditions and the desire to keep property within the family en-
couraged the intermarriage of relatives, a custom persisting long
into the republican period. One Heredia woman, a member of a
large and united family, recounts: "My paternal grandparents
were first cousins. One of their daughters married a cousin on
her father's side. Her daughter in turn married a cousin, her
mother's nephew." Marriages between cousins still occur among
the wealthy who want to keep riches within the family. Since
colonial days, also, the members of the upper class have inter-
married closely; it is said that the president is always a relative
of the thirty or forty leading families.
Stricter standards of morality governed behavior after the
establishment of independence. Many Costa Ricans look back to
the nineteenth century as a golden age, when the paramount
virtues were simplicity, industry, and piety. Domination of the
father persisted from colonial times, and feminine status was
extremely low. In the early part of the century girls seldom left
home except to attend mass, and few were taught to write for

48 Courtship and Marriage
fear they would send messages to their novios (sweethearts).
French nuns taught the girls of the leading families formality,
correctness, and such "cultural" pursuits as painting, embroidery,
and piano.
The dowry and the marriage contract disappeared only after
young people had gained more freedom. When the marriage had
been arranged, an evening party announcing the engagement was
given. All the girl's relatives were present to look over the prospec-
tive spouse-and sometimes the girl herself first saw him on that
occasion. She rarely talked to him before the wedding, always
sitting stiffly in the sala under her mother's watchful eye. If she
were lucky, she had a chance to dance with him at some birth-
day or wedding party.
Toward the end of the century, marriages were increasingly
made for love rather than for the parents' idea of suitability,
although parents still urged, "You should marry that man be-
cause he is rich." Girls were allowed to have novios and to marry
once they had learned Catholic doctrine and housework. "Good
girls who had few novios married at sixteen," says an old woman.
"If they had many novios before they were married, the men
didn't like it. They suspected the girl's virtue."
Chaperonage persisted. "Man is fire, woman is kindling, and
the devil comes and fans," proverbially expressed the reason for
strict watchfulness. Many grandmothers of girls who chafe against
chaperonage recite, "Entre santa y santo, pared de calicanto"
(Even between saints, a strong wall).
Novios were allowed to make more frequent visits than for-
merly, but only after asking permission (called the entrada) from
the girl's father. This request implied at least a serious interest,
if not a proposal of marriage. Perhaps the two had already known
each other for a year or so, for changes brought about by contact
with foreign countries gave them more freedom to share activities.
But these changes were slow to affect the campesinos. Their

Courtship and Marriage 49
customs remained both practical and picturesque. To prove his
ability to provide for a family, the boy left a cartload of firewood
outside the door of his sweetheart's home. She, in turn, ground
a portion of corn on her stone metate and patted and cooked
tortillas, the pancake-shape corn bread which is a staple of the
campesino diet, and presented them to his mother.
Coffee-harvest time was to the country people the year's most
romantic season. In the early mornings of the dry season they
left for the coffee groves in gaily singing and chattering groups,
baskets on their hips. Away from home's routine tasks and
mother's watchful eye, the young people indulged in flirta-
tions and courtships. The cogida (picking) still has such a strong
attraction that Heredia housewives are not surprised to find them-
selves without servants when the season begins. "Adilia tells me
faithfully that this year she will stay with me right through the
harvest, but in December that restlessness will seize her again,
and one morning she just won't be here getting breakfast," is a
typical housewife's tribute to the spell of the cogida.
Nineteenth-century courtships often began when a boy became
interested in a girl whom he saw at mass. A call at her home to
ask for the entrada followed. A swain of the upper class sometimes
began his suit by showing off his horsemanship each afternoon
before the window of the girl. A flower-adorned letter of declara-
tion made his meaning clear; its acceptance permitted him to
approach the window and talk to the girl. Some lady of the
family always contrived to be working nearby. After seeing the
girl several times, he would ask for the entrada.
Young people made the most of such diversions as came their
way. Melcochas, afternoon picnics in the country with dancing
on the cement coffee-drying floor of some plantation, were named
for the taffy made for the occasion. Sometimes a group of girls
made candy as a pretext for a dance, hired a marimba player,
and invited the boys to one of their homes, where they danced

50 Courtship and Marriage
and played games. Once or twice a year there was a big ball. In
San Jose the National Theater was the scene of splendid dances
on Independence Day and New Year's Eve. Paseos in oxcarts or
on horseback to a finca or picnic spot were sometimes organized,
especially in the dry season. The mothers of all the girls accom-
panied them.
The tertulia was the favorite diversion of the upper class around
the turn of the century. Older people often hark back to those
nights when a group of families would gather in one home or an-
other to converse, recite poetry, sing, and play quiet games.
Young people found romance in a wholesome atmosphere, say
the oldsters, and they came to know each other better than do
modern city youngsters, whirling in the conga line or sitting in
a movie theater. They regret that the tertulia vanished almost
completely with the advent of the movies, the auto, and the
social club.
Religious activities served as pretexts for courtship. With their
street processions and their excuse for new clothes, the religious
fiestas and church fairs gave an opportunity for flirtation. Girls
going to mass or the rosary often used this liberty to see their
novios in church or on the street. At deathwatches and visits to
the sick they might exchange a few words. Says a woman married
in 1894, "The religious ones went to a girl's home for the evening
rosary; the frivolous ones went to the retreta."

The Retreta
It is eight o'clock, retreta night.
The student closes his book-
For it is retreta night!
The seamstress puts away her crocheting;
The lawyer, his code; the teacher,
The newspaper;
The tailor leaves his needles;
To the retreta they go-and goes

Courtship and Marriage 51
The pretty little servant;
To the retreta goes the stern commander;
Arm in arm with the doctor
Walks the Congressman; the gentle spinster
Shepherds the sefioritas of the household
Confided to her care by the mother.
It is the eternal eight-o'clock retreta
Beneath the green trees of the park.8
Three nights a week in the larger Costa Rican towns, the mili-
tary bands play a retreta. This is a concert of both classical and
popular music presented in the grandstand of the central park,
usually between the hours of eight and nine-thirty.
But it is also an opportunity for flirtation and courtship.
"Public courting" is in fact the average traveler's analysis of
this custom, which attracts his attention in many Latin Ameri-
can countries, in some of which it is called serenata or paseo.
The retreta had a curious origin, being one of the outgrowths
of the French Revolution. When France was at the height of its
power, the military band played only for the nobles in the park
at Versailles, and the retrette was the tune sounded by the band
as a signal for retiring to their quarters. Determined to give the
people everything that the nobles had enjoyed, the revolutionaries
transferred these concerts to the public parks.
The custom was adopted in Spain, and later in Latin America.
No informant could tell us exactly how or when it came to Costa
Rica, except to surmise that early travelers to Europe brought
back the idea. Since there were no seats in their parks, the concert-
goers strolled around as they listened to the music. A typical
retreta at the end of the last century is described below.
People strolled around the central plaza of Heredia in the moonlight.
At eight o'clock the band came from the barracks, led by a member
carrying a lantern. They played in the middle of the street, with lan-
terns hung on their music stands and the golden plumes of their fancy
8 Carlos Luis Sienz, "Parque de colorss; unpublished poem.

52 Courtship and Marriage
uniforms gleaming in the yellow light. At each side of the band was a
policeman with a stick to establish order and prevent drunkards or
boisterous horsemen from trampling the musicians.
Girls of society and the middle class walked in one part, servants in
another. Only people fifteen years of age or more could attend. The
girls were quite coquettish, with ribbons and ruffles and a painstaking
coiffure. Always accompanied by their mothers, they were rarely per-
mitted to get near their novios. The women walked, and the men stood
looking at them. If some suitor wanted to buy a sweet or a drink for a
girl, he had to invite her mother too, and with one on each arm he en-
tered a cantina for cookies and wine.
The flower of the youth of fifty years ago attended the retretas, and
not only people of Heredia but also elegant swains from San Jose, Alajuela,
and Cartago came to look for a novia.'
To present-day youth as well the retreta spells "glamor." About
five hundred people attend in Heredia on an average Tuesday or
Thursday night, and this number is often doubled on Sundays
and multiplied during fiestas. On New Year's Eve and during the
annual fiestas civicas in San Jose confetti and serpentine abound
at the retretas, and thousands mill about in confusion and gaiety.
On the benches sit groups of men or women, couples, or lonely
old men seeking solace in the music. Children sometimes prome-
nade with dignity and occasionally dart about and tease the others.
Young people from twelve to twenty-five are in the great ma-
jority. Around the park, which is about the size of a city block,
girls stroll arm in arm, in twos and threes, moving clockwise
along the inner side of the sidewalk; boys walk counterclockwise
in twos and threes. Lights low, music playing, everyone well
dressed-it is a romantic situation.
These five hundred or one thousand people all stroll rhythmi-
cally to the same music. They are in a festive mood. The line of
boys faces the line of girls, and each boy and girl meet twice every
time they circle the park. Although they appear to pay little at-
* Clara Quesada, Normal School, "The Retreta in Heredia"; a reconstruction gleaned
from the memories of older people.

Courtship and Marriage 53
tention to each other, a mild form of flirtation goes on. It con-
sists of what is called dar cuerda (to exchange looks that indicate
interest). A girl describes this ceremony as follows:
When a boy and a girl approach each other, they look at each other
and smile in a quiet, secret way. Then, as they pass, they turn their
heads and keep looking for two or three steps. When I was a little girl,
it was a most wonderful thing to keep looking for half a block.
You have to dar cuerda, or a boy will think you don't like him. Ameri-
cans think it's strange that girls they haven't met look at them, smile,
flutter their eyelashes.
If a boy she doesn't know looks at a girl in the retreta, she nudges her
companions or the girls ahead and asks who he is, to be sure he has more
or less the same social standing as she. Then the next time she passes
him she returns the look. You gaze like that at everyone you like in a
romantic way.
If a boy has looked at a girl "with all the current turned on"
at several retretas and she has returned the look, some night, after
several turns around the park, he will join her and walk around
with her. Occasionally her companions leave her, but it is not un-
usual to see a boy with two or three girls. They may sit on a bench
to talk and listen to the music, or they may go to the club for
a dance or a drink. Next day the girl tells her friends, "Imagine!
Fulano 'gave me a tumble' (me cay6) last night."
If the status of novio has already been established, after about
three turns around the park the novio joins his girl friend. But the
retreta is less used as a rendezvous for sweethearts than formerly,
for they now have more liberty to go to other places together than
was common as recently as ten years ago. It is still a convenient
meeting place for novios whose parents disapprove of their court-
ship, however, and for those who have quarreled and want to
see each other and make up. It is also the place where many court-
ships end, because of the triangles that originate there. More
than one young swain is said to stay away from the retreta for
fear his several sweethearts might notice one another and thus dis-

54 Courtship and Marriage
cover his fickleness. If two girls are both attracted to one boy,
sometimes they agree to take turns looking at him as they walk
around the park. So much do young people enjoy this opportunity
for flirtation that, like United States adolescents on Main Street,
they do a few turns around the park after religious processions,
masses, dances, movies, and in the course of an evening stroll,
even when there is no band concert.
New diversions entering the life of Heredia and other cities
within the last ten years or so have lowered the attendance at
retretas. Before that, servants and workers walked within the park
while upper- and middle-class folk strolled along the sidewalk.
Upper-class participation has greatly declined, and today all
classes walk together. The club in the average small town, with
its nickelodeon and its bar, its ping-pong tables and its billiards
-and its monthly charge of eighteen cents for membership-at-
tracts the upper class. The movies have also attracted people; mar-
ried couples are much more likely to attend them than to go to
the retreta, although young married men are frequently at the
retreta with "the boys."
Once a meeting at the retreta or at mass had brought a boy and
a girl together, once the entrada had been granted and the two
had found that her mother's constant presence could not dampen
their ardor, but strengthened their desire for a home of their own,
a wedding date was set. This took place when the boy's father or
godfather called on the girl's parents and formally asked for their
daughter's hand.
The girl, with her mother, and the boy, with his father, went
separately to see the parish priest. He asked if they truly loved
each other, tested them on religious doctrine, and satisfied himself
that there were no obstacles to marriage such as illicit relations,
sickness, or parental opposition. The banns were announced on
three successive Sundays.
The wedding would take place in the morning and would in-

Courtship and Marriage 55
elude a mass. The bride would wear a long white gown and a
pafiol6n (shawl), the gift of the groom. "Mine cost forty dollars,"
recalls a woman married in 1894. "It was of heavy white em-
broidered silk with a long fringe. But the poorer people had to
use cheap cotton ones or borrow one."
Three customs of Spanish tradition were included in the cere-
mony. From the cupped hands of the groom to those of the priest,
and from the priest to the bride were transferred thirteen coins,
the arras. Tradition ruled that any coins which dropped to the floor
in passing belonged to the church. It made little difference when
it was the cinco or the diez of a poor man; but when it was a gold
coin, the church benefited-and the rich couple could well af-
ford it. In earlier days most brides gave their arras to the church
anyway. If not immediately, they gave them later, perhaps when
they asked a saint's intercession for a sick child. Others saved
theirs for family emergencies.
Exchanging rings, which were placed on the third fingers of
the right hand, was the climax of the ceremony. The velacidn,
sometimes celebrated the following day, emphasized that the pur-
pose of marriage was procreation. Blessing the lighted candles held
by the pair, the priest conferred a benediction on the offspring to
A party, where there was plenty of food, liquor, fireworks, and
dancing, followed the wedding. City weddings in the late x 8oo's
were sometimes so splendid as to be almost regal.
The wedding feast of the poor consisted of delicacies of rice,
corn, and other country pastries. Aquileo Echeverria, the poet
whose Concherias depict Costa Rican customs, describes such a
Two skyrockets announce that they are leaving the church. In front
walks the priest, followed by Mayor Ledesma, then the curandero (quack
doctor), and then the schoolmaster. Behind these great gentlemen
marches the gentle pair. The girl, Miquela, wears a gauzy dress, and in

56 Courtship and Marriage
her long black braids are entwined some little white flowers. Cristian
has a cornfield, and what's more, a cart! Four acres of coffee, a house,
a garden, a flintlock rifle, a cow, his horse, and his machete. Behind
the novios come guests and relatives, then the orchestra-an accordion,
three mandolins, two guitars, a clarinet without keys, and a violin with
one string. On arriving at the house, they fire ten skyrockets, three
rifles, two bombs.
Into blue glasses is poured strong and savory nectar, an inferno which
tastes glorious and is scarcely swallowed before it goes to the head. They
sit down at the long improvised tables. The mother comes perspiring
with a huge tray of tripe soup steaming in great cups which exhibit in
golden letters: "My Life"; "Forget-me-not"; "Until When"; "I am
yours." The port, beer, and the devilish guaro, which goes down like
a bullet and comes up like an arrow.
"The priest should make a speech!" "I can't." "The school teacher."
"Me neither; I'm in mourning." "Well, then, Mayor Ledesma." "All
right. But give me wine. Cristian! Miquela! Marriage is the knot formed
with the cord of the love of the Christians who live below on earth. A
boy sees a girl, or vice versa, and they say four words and off to the
church. And here I toast Cristian; and here I toast Miquela . that
love will not be lacking or quarrels arise, that they live to old age and
die confessed, leaving their sons in the arms of their daughters-in-law,
and their daughters in the arms of their sons-in-law. Viva the novios!"
"Music! Music!" . At four o'clock in the afternoon the newlyweds
march to their house. Meanwhile her mother bends her withered face
to the smoke which rises from the hearth, and her teardrops evaporate
in the embers.5

A girl married in 1821 saw gradual changes, but not shocking
ones, as her daughters grew up and married. But a woman mar-
ried one hundred years later has seen far greater changes just
during twenty years and is shocked by them. So are the campe-
sinos ten miles distant, who hear of the "goings on" in San Jos6,
and the more conservative and tradition-bound families, who
frown upon the "libertinage" that some parents permit. For the
twentieth century has been a time of rapid changes in courtship,
5 "Boda campestre," in his Concherias, pp. 134-42.

Courtship and Marriage 57
during which new elements of "modernism" and "American-
ism" have elbowed in to contrast incongruously with old Spanish
The modern daughter often attends coeducational schools from
the first grade up, and may even go to a coeducational high school.
She talks of novios from the age of ten or twelve, but rarely has
dating privileges until she is fifteen. On her fifteenth birthday,
if she is of the upper class, her father pays to have her picture
appear in the newspapers and gives her a party. Unless they are
wealthy, this party also serves as her presentation to society. After
that she can have novios in the sense of suitors, attend formal
dances, and have dates.
The movies and the "club" have pushed the tertulia and the
melcochas into the background. Dancing is almost a craze among
the young people of the towns, and few girls any longer don the
religious habits of the Virgin of Carmen or the Daughters of
Mary, which forbid the wearer to dance. Religious activities are
less often used as pretexts for seeing members of the opposite sex,
since girls have much more liberty than formerly. The retreta
is still popular among young people, but it is looked down upon
by some; those of the upper class go to retretas only when "there
is nothing else to do," which, many complain, is often.
"Street courting" is common in the cities, especially among
members of the lower class. Couples are often seen in the evening
sitting on the curb, on doorsteps, or in the parks. Girls lean out
of windows or stand in the doorways to talk to boys on the side-
walk. Earlier in the century another form of window courting
was common. Every afternoon at a certain time the girl would
sit at the window sewing or reading. Her admirer would stand
on the opposite side of the street watching her or would stroll
back and forth. Many courtships progressed no further for sev-
eral years.
At eleven and at five, when classes and work end, San Jos6

58 Courtship and Marriage
streets are full of strolling girls and of boys standing on the
street corners or leaning against the buildings, appraising their
charms. From the age of fifteen on a city girl may join one of
the mixed groups that gather on the street corners or on some-
one's porch in the late afternoon or early evening to talk and sing.
This is a vestige of the tertulia of their parents. The movies, the
club, and the retreta are now usually, attended by girls in groups
without an older chaperon. This is especially true in smaller towns.
The country girl meets her novio at her gate, on which she
swings back and forth shyly fingering her apron as he woos her.
In the country, other controls take the place of chaperonage.
If Maria tells her mother she is going to the retreta with the Var-
gas girls, her mother can later easily find out whether or not she
really did so, for in the village, "everybody knows everybody
else." Gossip exercises a strong control. "They walk around as if
they were married," is a comment which expresses community
disapproval and is to be avoided. Chaperonage has been delegated
largely to the people in general, and fear of what people will say
governs much of the behavior of girls. In most places girls are at
home by nine or ten o'clock except on Sundays or fiesta nights,
for to return later, unless well chaperoned, would be looked upon
"with bad eyes." To parties and dances mothers often go "for
appearance's sake," and few mothers would permit their daugh-
ters to go to the melcochas or on paseos unless they were sure that
at least two mothers were going along.
Most of the freedom that girls of all classes have attained has
come within the last decade. Many women married as recently as
ten years ago say, "My father or my mother was considered the
only correct chaperon." The employment of women, the educa-
tion of a number in the United States, improvement in transpor-
tation, and the movies have given girls more liberty.
Wealthy girls who have traveled to the United States either as
tourists or to have a year or two of schooling there insist on more
independence. Some of these drive their own cars and go out alone

Courtship and Marriage 59
with their novios, causing the more conservative to shake their
heads over the "Americanization" of customs. Many San Jos6
girls now work in offices, and their parents cannot, of course,
keep track of where they go and to whom they talk. Yet old
standards are still so respected that an upper-class boy educated
in England and the United States complains, "Here you can't take
a girl out unless her mother, sister, or girl friend goes along. I
don't like that. Double dating is still considered wrong (as chap-
eronage) by most people. You can't take a girl out in a car alone
in broad daylight. In the States, I liked the fact that everyone did
not know everyone else's business."
The poor girl is little chaperoned, especially in the city. She
can often dress becomingly on what she earns, while her mother
remains barefoot and shabby and is ashamed to be seen in public.
If the girl is employed as a servant, there is often no chaperonage,
for the mistress is afraid that she will lose her servant if she tries
to govern her behavior.
Restrictions on their liberty, although becoming less rigid, still
arouse rebellion in some girls, especially when boisterous child-
hood begins to merge into "proper" young womanhood. "Have
you ever wanted to be a boy? If so, when? Why or why not?" Of
a sample of university girls who answered these questions, 30
percent had wanted to be boys at one time or another, usually
at the age of thirteen, when their freedom began to be curbed
in the interest of "femininity."
No boy, however, had ever wanted to be a girl; "Ni loco!"
(nor crazy) added one. In spite of this feeling of rebellion at
adolescence, most girls, as they grow older, accept and even de-
fend these restrictions. High school and university girls believe
even more emphatically than do boys that their sex should not
be given greater freedom.6
The decrease in chaperonage causes many of the older genera-
6 Seventy-three percent of the girls in a group of 274 students say they should not,
while 68 percent of the boys agree.

60 Courtship and Marriage
tion to shake their heads over "parental neglect" and "modern
libertinage." More and more parents, however, faced by obstacles
to chaperonage brought about by present-day transportation and
commercial amusements, say that parents who give their children
sound advice should trust them to behave properly.
The modern young Tica, then, often goes to dances, movies,
and retretas chaperoned only by other girls, and she meets the
opposite sex at school and at work. Her parents, especially in
San Jose, may not even meet her novio until the two have "talked
seriously." The ceremony of the entrada is often omitted unless
the suitor wishes to convince his sweetheart's father of his good
intentions, but formal permission to marry is always requested.
Few city parents oppose their children's choice in a mate, for their
young people do not brook such opposition.7
In the smaller towns and in the country, parents find it easier
to keep track of their daughter's doings, and they insist on meet-
ing her novio before a courtship has progressed very far. "The old
and romantic custom of speaking to the father is preserved," says
a girl from the village of Santo Domingo, "and when this does
not happen there is the new and not-so-romantic custom of the
father speaking to the suitor. Usually, as soon as the affair becomes
at all serious, the girl gives the boy permission to ask for the en-
trada; then the days when he may visit are specified."
The great decline in parental pressure on choice of a mate
makes for greater happiness in marriage, say about half of the
fifty married people-twenty-five men and twenty-five women
-interviewed concerning changes in courtship and family life.8
7 Eighty-six out of o03 college boys say that if they wanted to marry a girl they
would do so even if one or both of their parents disapprove. Girls pay somewhat greater
attention to their parents' desires, yet x o out of 171 girls would marry a boy of whom
one or both of their parents disapprove. The same attitude is said to be true of the
lower classes.
8 In this largely middle-class sample, i8 married before x9zo; 12, between r92z and
993o; 14, from 1931 to 1935; 6, since 1935. The median age of the men at marriage
was 26; women, o2. The men represent eleven occupations. Four of the women are

Courtship and Marriage 61
Others say that it results in more impulsive selection and the com-
plete ignoring of parental advice. Though parents no longer say
whom one should marry, their interests have taken a different
turn, say some. "Formerly, parents were interested in having
their daughters marry hard-working Catholics. Now, they are
interested in having them marry." To this end, it is not uncom-
mon for parents to organize excursions and parties to which they
invite eligible men, whom they would like their daughters to
Parents do try to keep courtships from dragging on for a long
period; a limit is usually agreed on when the entrada is granted.
"My daughter's courtship lasted only seven months," one woman
recounts. "That's a good thing, because if a man courts a girl very
long and then leaves her, her chances of getting married are very
slim. Also, once they are novios, the business becomes dangerous.
Men here are passionate, and if a girl lets a man do as he pleases,
he loses respect for her and won't marry her."
Few older people approve of modern courtship customs. "Girls
have too much liberty," "there is too much intimacy before mar-
riage," and "courtship is just an irresponsible pastime now" are
typical complaints. "Men have lost their attitude of gallantry and
respect, especially since so many women smoke and drink," one
mother believes.
The less conservative think that young people use their liberty
to get to know each other better, which is good for marriage.
"Times change," some philosophize, "and everything must go in
accordance with the times."
"Most people marry, at one time or another, and these of neces-
sity include rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, generous and
selfish, honest and dishonest, good cooks and poor cooks." 9 Yet,
teachers, x housewives, 5 seamstresses, $ office workers. Only 5 of the group are
childless. Interviews made by Leticia Bulgarelli and Mercedes Agilero, of the Normal
9 Baber, Marriage aw the Family, p. 147.

62 Courtship and Marriage
some people want one thing in a mate and some want another-
and a study of what they want reveals much about their values.
To find what Costa Ricans stress, a survey was made of the traits
which 274 University of Costa Rica students consider most im-
portant in a marriage partner.'0
Indispensable in a husband, say the girls, are culture and per-
sonality. "Culture" is a value dear to the hearts of Costa Ricans.
Manners, courtesy, some degree of formal education are all im-
plied in the word. A husband must also be in good health, like
home life, be faithful, not drink to excess, and must be able to
earn enough to live well. Of least importance-so they say-are
good looks, money, and dancing ability."
What of the twenty-five battle-scarred veterans? The wives
and the widows interviewed say a husband should above all be
affectionate, not drink to excess, and earn enough to live well.
Education, ranking thirteenth in importance according to the
girls, is ranked second by the women. Fondness for children is
the third most important quality in a husband; "There is noth-
ing like children to keep a family together."
Girls put faithfulness in fifth place, while the women rank it
fourteenth. Is this a rationalization of their experience? "A faith-
ful husband-he would be nice, but you can't get one," said the
wife of a janitor; "I don't think there is a faithful husband in
Costa Rica." Others are less sweeping in their statements. "Hay
de todo" (There is some of everything), they philosophize.
While these same women complain that girls of today seek
social position and economic gain through marriage, they show
10 The group includes x7x boys and o03 girls. Of the girls, 81 are freshmen and 75
are sophomores in the Normal School, while x5 are high school seniors. The inodal age
is xg. They come from Heredia, San Jose, and every other part of the republic. The
ro3 boys include 17 freshmen and 19 sophomores in the Normal School, 24 first-year
and ai third-year law students, and 22 high school seniors. The modal age is xg, and
the median o2. The girls were given a list of 24 traits in a husband, and the boys of 27
in a wife, to rank on a i to $ scale of importance.
1 See Table a.

Courtship and Marriage 63



Rank Trait q
Good health
Liking for home life
Temperance in use of
Earning capacity
Fondness for children
Affectionate nature
Agreeable disposition
Conversational ability
At least equal social
Temperance in smoking
Love of sports
Dancing ability
Good looks

I.o3 $



Rank Trait quotient
Liking for home life I.II6
Fondness for children x 2
Good health 1.145
Faithfulness .x15$
Housekeeping ability 1.24
"Culture" 1.264
Education 1.32
Chastity 1.362
Personality 1.378
Neatness 1.415
Affectionate nature .5og9
Intelligence 1.514
Agreeable disposition 1.534
Temperance in use of
liquor 1.609
Sociability 1.70
Ability to cook well 1 .75
Ability to be a good
hostess 1.813
Poise 1.89
Temperance in smoking 1.91
Piety 2.18
At least equal social
status 2.109
Beauty 2.22
Conversational ability 2.22
Vivacity 2.317
Love of sports 3.35
Wealth 3.708
Dancing ability 3.71

64 Courtship and Marriage
that they consider it even more important by placing the social
status of the husband in eighth place, whereas girls rank it four-
A number of working-class girls and women were questioned
at random on the most important trait in a husband. "All I ask
is that he be a hard worker," was the invariable answer.
"A good wife should like home life, be fond of children,
healthy, faithful, and a good housekeeper," both college boys and
married men agree. But while the boys rank affection eleventh,
men rank it third in importance. "Only love can ease the heavy
yoke of matrimony," they insist. Perhaps the boys take it for
granted that a wife will be affectionate, while the men have found
out that one can't be sure. They are less tolerant of smoking and
drinking than are the boys. Piety they rank ninth in a wife, while
the boys rank it twentieth. Said one man, "If a woman is pious, all
other things are added unto her."
But even more important than piety, they think, is conversa-
tional ability-in eighth place. Boys rank it twenty-second, very
near the bottom. Perhaps thirty years of the same woman's chat-
ter will give them a higher appreciation of that trait, and they
will agree with Nietzsche, "Before marriage this question should
be put: 'Will you continue to be satisfied with this woman's con-
versations until old age?' Everything else is transitory."
Chastity is the trait on which the sexes differ most sharply.
Men rank it high; women, low. This double standard of chastity
is seen also in the institution of chaperonage, the custom of the
entrada, and the generally limited freedom of girls.
The men, then, want a wife with the traditional virtues of
homemaker and mother. Says a professor: "'With culture, there is
danger of too much intellectualism so that woman loses sight of
her mission, the most delicate and beautiful of all, the home-
How do the desires of Costa Rican students compare with those

Courtship and Marriage 65

of American students? The same 274 students were asked sub-
stantially the same questions as were put by Professor Ray Baber,

Yes No Yes No
All other factors being satisfactory
would you marry:
I. A person of lower economic
rank than your own? 94 6 82 18
2. A person decidedly ugly? 14 86 42 58
3. A person of unattractive dis-
position? 7 93 9 91
4. A person of lower moral stand-
ards than your own? 9 91 5 95
5. A person of lower social status
than your own? 61 39 43 57
6. A person of a different reli-
gious faith from your own? 67 33 49 5I
7. A person in decidedly poor
health, if:
His health were bad when
you first became acquainted? 13 87 6 94
His health became bad after
an intimate friendship had
been formed? 48 52 41 59
8. A person of less intelligence
than your own? 48 52 23 77
9. A person of less education than
your own? 30 70 17 83
xo. A person of whom one or both
of your parents disapprove? 85 i5 65 35

66 Courtship and Marriage
New York University sociologist, to his hundreds of students.12
Is one's sex or one's nationality more important in determin-
ing the qualities one wants in a mate? From this study it appears
that whether one is a boy or girl has much more weight than
whether one is a Costa Rican or an American.s3 On most ques-
tions Costa Rican boys and American boys agree more closely
than do Costa Rican boys and Costa Rican girls or American boys
and American girls. The same is true of the girls of both coun-
tries. A good disposition and good health are desired by both
groups, while neither group places much emphasis on good looks
or wealth. It must, of course, be recognized that answers to ques-
tionnaires are strongly influenced by what people think they
ought to think-data on which is important in the study of any
Only as regards morality and social status are Costa Ricans
more demanding than Americans. This is said to reflect the respect
for "what people say" and the fact that, although proud of being
democratic, Costa Ricans are very conscious of family back-
ground and social status. The smallness of the country and the
lack of that mobility and impersonality which make backgrounds
less important in an urban environment are also evident.
American boys are more willing than Costa Ricans to marry
girls with less education than their own. Only 30 percent of the
Ticos say they would marry a girl with less education than their
own, while 76 percent of the Americans would marry a girl of
less intelligence and (or) education than their own. The fact
that one's degree of education is a much surer index of social
status in Costa Rica than in the United States may affect the an-
That in Roman Catholic Costa Rica, more boys and girls ex-
12 See John and Mavis Biesanz, "Mate Selection Standards of Costa Rican Students,"
Social Forces, Dec., 1943, pp. 194-99.
18 See Table 3.

Courtship and Marriage 67
press willingness to marry a person of a different religion than
in the melting pot of the United States is surprising.14
"Well, that seems to indicate that we Costa Ricans have a su-
perficial religious faith," commented one woman. "Not neces-
sarily," defended another. "These youngsters are at the age when
they are proud of being what they call 'liberal.' When they actu-
ally come to marrying, however, very few would marry Protes-
tants, partly because of the opposition of their families and partly
because their own religious convictions are more deep-seated than
they think now." Another woman added, "The girls all want to
marry Americans, whether Protestant or Catholic; that affected
their answers."
Since American soldiers have been stationed in San Jose, car-
toons and jokes about their attraction for the Costa Rican girls
have been numerous-and not altogether fantastic. Asked what
nationalities they prefer, x9 percent of the girls and z2 percent
of the boys prefer foreign mates to Costa Ricans, while 44 per-
cent of the boys and So percent of the girls would marry either
Costa Ricans or foreigners.
About one-half of the fifty-six girls who mentioned specific
nationalities would like to marry Americans. Sixteen others men-
tioned North Europeans, while eight named other Latin American
nationalities and seven mentioned Spaniards or Italians as their
preferences. Why? Perhaps the large number of Americans and
North Europeans in high social and economic positions in the
country has some influence. The girls often mention that Amer-
ican women have more freedom and that American husbands are
more considerate of their wives than are Costa Ricans. The great
14 Forty-nine percent of the Costa Rican girls and 66% percent of the Costa Rican
boys say that other factors being satisfactory, they would marry a person of a differ-
ent religion from their own, while 42 percent of the girls and 38 percent of the boys
in the American sample say so. A friend who read the manuscript comments that
N.Y.U. has a large Jewish student body, and their replies may have registered their
pride and indifference to the well-known anti-Semitic prejudice against marrying Jews.

68 Courtship and Marriage
number of American movies shown there also contributes to the
idea of glamor, romance, and luxury in the lives of Americans.
"It's mostly because Americans have money," commented a
group of married women to whom these data were shown. "The
girls also believe that Americans are more considerate, faithful,
and helpful, and less jealous. Imagine a Costa Rican husband dry-
ing the dishes or bathing the baby! Here they dominate the house,
but they wouldn't be caught dead in the kitchen."
Says a young businessman with a degree from a United States
college, "They are anxious to marry foreigners so they can get
out of Costa Rica and 'go places and do things.' "
Asked why she had never married, an attractive young high
school teacher replied, "We modern girls expect companionship,
but Costa Rican men think their only duty to a wife is to support
her and their children."
Almost all the boys and girls questioned reflected their pro-
fessional interests by answering that they would like to marry
professionals. Only nine of the girls would like to marry campe-
sinos, and several of them specified one with a fine finca; only
thirteen of the boys would like to marry a campesina, although
agriculture is the occupation of most Costa Ricans.
The modern Costa Rican wedding is almost invariably in the
Roman Catholic church. Only 157 civil marriages were regis-
tered in 1941 in contrast to 3,814 Roman Catholic ones.15 When
marriage has been agreed upon, both go to see the priest. Each
is asked if he truly loves the other, if he is familiar with Christian
doctrine, if he is of age or has parental permission, if there are
any such impediments as illicit relations or sickness. The banns
may be read aloud for three consecutive Sundays, but many pre-
fer to have them posted in the church.
In the upper class the girl is given an engagement ring. The old
15 All but f of 137 girls and all but 17 of sa boys want to be married by a Roman
Catholic priest.

Courtship and Marriage 69
custom of a formal call on the bride's parents survives among the
high society of the capital. Three or four months before the
wedding a notice appears in the papers: "Don Fulano de Tal and
Sefiora will call on Don Zutano de Cual and Sefiora, on Wednes-
day evening, to ask the hand of their daughter Maria for their
son Juan."
On that day all the friends of the families send flowers to the
home of the novia. In the evening the parents of the boy are re-
ceived in the sala and entertained. Nothing is said about the en-
gagement, but this visit is the first official recognition that the
wedding date is set.
In the middle-class families the engagement is sometimes cele-
brated by a party. In the poor class the novio, with relatives or
friends, calls on the parents of the girl. Nothing is said, but every-
one knows the promise is being sealed.
At the time of the engagement a picture of the novia, if her
father can afford to pay for it, appears in the paper; and if she
has a "good" family background, genealogical data are often in-
cluded. Her picture may appear several times, depending on the
number of tea dances and cocktail parties given by her friends.
Linen showers are common among the upper middle class. Often
there is a big dance as a "farewell to the single ones."
Those who are invited to the wedding send gifts about five
days in advance. An informal call is made by intimate friends and
relatives the night before the wedding, to give brief congratula-
tions to the couple and their parents and to look at the gifts,
which have been spread out in the home of the bride.
Weddings among upper and middle class people no longer
take place in the morning, with rare exceptions. Late afternoon is
more convenient for the guests; five o'clock is a fashionable hour.
By that time the church is full of whispering, excited spectators,
in addition to the guests-including many barefoot women and
little girls to whom a society wedding is a great spectacle. The

70 Courtship and Marriage
padrinos, an equal number of witnesses of each sex, gather at the
back of the church and form a double row. Sometimes there are
forty or fifty, not to mention some who are unable to attend. The
music begins, and a priest leads the padrinos down the long
flower-decked aisle. They form a line on each side of the aisle
close to the altar. This priest retraces his steps to the groom with
his mother and the bride with her father, who stand near the door.
The groom and his mother proceed to the altar, where the priest
who is to perform the ceremony is waiting. Finally, the strains of
Mendelssohn's Wedding March peal from the organ, and the con-
ducting priest comes down the aisle followed by the porta arras,
a little girl who carries the rings and the arras, and finally by the
central figure-the bride, on the arm of her father.
Her satin dress, veil, and coronet are as elaborate as her father
can provide. Her journey down the long aisle occasions much
rustling and whispering; hushed silence is not common to a Costa
Rican wedding ceremony. Once she reaches the altar she stands
there with her bridegroom, while the padrinos file in and form
a semi-circle around the couple. None of the spectators is able
to see much of the actual ceremony, except for the little girls who
crowd right up to the communion rail and peer between the
standing padrinos.
The ceremony still includes the rings and the arras, which may
be a bracelet of thirteen gilded cincos. The "yoke of matrimony"
is symbolized by a white cord looped around the necks of the
couple, during the velacidn or blessing of the future offspring.
While the ceremony is going on, those within the church whisper
and move about, and sometimes even stand on the seats to get a
better view. When the brief rite is over and the same wedding
march begins for the recessional, there is a great flurry, many
of the spectators leaving before the bride has gone through the
door on the arm of her new husband. The invited guests go di-
rectly to the club or to the home of the bride, where a reception
and dance are usually given.

Courtship and Marriage 71
Here the couple receive congratulations, and all the women
kiss the bride. She gathers up her veil and with it covers the head
of each single girl there to insure that she will marry. Liquor and
delicacies are served, and there are several hours of dancing. The
bride passes out the wedding cake, often already cut and wrapped
in pretty paper. The newlyweds leave for a few days on a finca
or at the seashore.
Weddings of the "high life"-as the San Jose group which
most loves to display its wealth is called-sometimes add a best
man, a bridesmaid, and the best friend of the bride to the retinue
of padrinos.
The weddings of the poor are necessarily simpler. If a couple
is very poor, they are married at six o'clock mass on a weekday
morning and celebrate with coffee at the bride's home. "But," says
a servant girl, "the poor don't like to be left behind. The girls
want a long white dress and veil just as do the rich girls; they
have a dance or maybe their fathers rent a bus and they all go
on a paseo to the country and have a picnic."
From our study window in San Jos6 we saw many a wedding
party enter the church on the opposite side of the street. One
pretty bride in white satin wearing a filmy veil was escorted to
the altar by her barefoot father, a peon clad in blue chambray
shirt, black trousers, and stiff broadbrimmed black hat. Few peo-
ple attended. There was no music. After the wedding the bride
kissed everyone on the porch, then they dispersed on foot.
It is among the poorer country people and in the more isolated
regions that the paioldn is still occasionally seen and that country
delicacies of corn, rice, and illicit liquor are served. The poor have
fewer padrinos than do the upper class, often only one couple.
"But they like to have more if possible," adds the servant girl,
"because they are sure to receive gifts from the padrinos."
In the remote country districts weddings are said to be cele-
brated for days. The bride has four new dresses-she is married
in white, wears rose for lunch, blue in the afternoon, and yellow

72 Courtship and Marriage
in the evening. There is feasting for three days on the meats and
sweets that the neighbors have prepared.
The people in general cling firmly to the idea of the permanence
of marriage and its essentially religious nature, its primary objects
being mutual aid and children. It is on this basis that the bride
goes to her new home.


NO COSTA RICAN ever greets you on the street, by
telephone, or in a letter without asking after the health
of the rest of the family and sending greetings. Fam-
ily is usually the first identification sought-before profession,
wealth, or place of residence. "Is he a Jimenez Volio or a Jimenez
Sanchez?" one asks, to help place a man's status.
Spanish tradition and Roman Catholic doctrine have nowhere
retained a stronger hold than on family life. Women are tradi-
tionally considered weak creatures, to be protected and chival-
rously treated, but kept in their places. Men, on the other hand,
have almost unlimited freedom, for a double standard of morals
governs conduct. Costa Ricans take it for granted that monog-
amy is the only proper form of wedlock. They consider marriage
a religious sacrament lasting "until death do us part."
The Costa Rican birth rate is one of the highest in the world-
two and one-half times that of the United States.' It is also the
highest recorded by any Central American country, though
Costa Rica is commonly considered the most advanced of the
group. In explanation of its phenomenal birth rate, Jose Guerrero,
director of the 1927 census, told us: "This country is 80 percent
rural, Catholic, and against birth control, but of course the other
Central American countries are, too. Perhaps the others do not
register births as thoroughly as we do; this is very likely in coun-
tries with an Indian population. The chief reason for our large
birth rate is that there is very little knowledge of birth control
1 The annual birth rate for the period 1921-25 was 43.1 per i,ooo population. In
1926-30 it was 46.2; in 1931-35, 43.4; and in 1936-40, 42.6. Calculated on the basis
of the number of women between if and 45, it was 187.8 live births per z,ooo in
1936-40. Data from Lur6s, Aspectos biodemogrdficos de la poblaci&n de Costa Rica,
pp. 46-49.

74 Family Life
here. But the birth rate is already declining." A small decline is
noticeable since 193o.
Many lament a change from the old days, when, they say,
families were much larger. "Children account for a woman's time,
and, besides, what is wasted on one can be spread out over five
or six," we overheard a Costa Rican man assert on a streetcar.
Others agree with one father that "In the United States you have
the matter of children well worked out. Here too many are born
and too many die." 2
Completely childless and even one-child marriages are criti-
cized on all sides, and it is rare to find a healthy couple who do
not want any children. A childless couple is pitied rather than
No longer, however, do the "social" class care to take "all that
God sends"; the great majority of young couples prefer to have
not less than two or more than four children. Even some who
profess to be devout Catholics try to reconcile family planning
with their religious beliefs. A pious young mother of children
aged 14, 1o, and 5 explained to us: "Few of the 'social' class have
many children these days. They avoid them because they see the
high cost of living and want to educate their children. Even good
Catholics do. The wives are Catholic and would be content to
take all that come, but the husbands want to avoid children, so
they take the responsibility."
Among the city professionals and businessmen birth control is
most widely practiced. While members of this group say that a
desire to educate the children is their reason for family limitation,
others ascribe it to vanity, love of amusements, and the decline of
religion, and they blame the French influence, so strong in the
country some years ago, for the popularity of the practice.8
2 Despite the high birth rate, the average family contains only 4.9 members (1927
8 Women are more conservative than men on the topic of birth control. Of xoo

Family Life 75
Members of the rural working class consider it a blessing to
have a large family. "Each son brings a loaf of bread under his
arm," is the saying. "The Scriptures say it is a sin to avoid chil-
dren. But the rich don't believe it." The campesino proudly calls
his row of children a "marimba." City workers are less likely to
consider a large family a blessing, but poverty, ignorance, and
their Catholic faith combine to keep their offspring numerous.
A janitor's wife, half of whose dozen children died in infancy,
says, "Children cost a lot of time, money, and trouble, but what
God does is well done." A pious woman of sixty, married at seven-
teen, recalls,
"After I had had three children I was thin and sick and didn't
want any more. A friend came to me and said, 'Why don't you
tell your husband to do thus and so?' I did, and he was furious.
'You've got to be a good woman. Don't ever see that woman
again.' I prayed not to have any more and tied a cord of San Fran-
cisco tight around my waist. But I had twelve more. Birth control
is a sin. Everyone does it now but they don't confess."
Ignorance, meager wages, and improper diet cause infant mor-
tality among the peons to reach appalling proportions. In the cof-
fee district of Santo Domingo one child out of every four dies
before his first birthday. In 1940 two out of every fifteen born
in the country died during their first year; one-fourth of these
were less than one month of age. Infectious diseases and intestinal
parasites are the main causes; malnourished babies cannot resist
their ravages.
This sad story is somewhat brightened by the fact that since
xg92 infant mortality has been cut 40 percent.4 The decline is
university students, 72 say large families should be avoided; the boys are more strongly
(94 percent) in favor of limitation. The average student wants three children.
'In xq91-2$, the annual death rate was 1232. per thousand children less than one
year of age; in 1936-40 the average was 137.8. The rate is higher among illegitimate
children. In 1940 the rate was xz8.2 per thousand.legitimate children and 146.9 per
thousand illegitimate children.

76 Family Life
accelerated by government health services, which aided in effect-
ing a drop of 40 percent in infant mortality during only ten years
of work in one district.6
Pregnancy is expected to occur shortly after marriage; usually
it does. If a woman has been married more than a year and has
no children, she is pitied, told to go to a good. doctor and pray
to San Jose, or suspected of practicing birth control.
Upper-class women take care to get rest and proper diet dur-
ing pregnancy. The wife of a peon, day laborer, or artisan, how-
ever, carries on work as usual and can afford no more than her
ordinary diet of rice, beans, tortillas, and sugar water. She can-
not spend hours in knitting or sewing dainty garments for the
coming infant, but washes old clothes or sacks and whitens them
in the sun. Some superstitious neighbor is sure to tell her that
while no snake will come near her, if she tries to take care of a
man bitten by a snake, he will surely die, and if she makes vine-
gar, it is sure to curdle. If she sees an eclipse of the sun, her baby
will be blond and have a red birthmark; if she sees an eclipse of
the moon, the child will be dark and have a dark birthmark. She
must have everything she wants during her pregnancy or the
baby will be born with its mouth open and cry a great deal.
When she knows she is to have a child, the pious mother goes
to church and offers the unborn child to a saint. San Ram6n is
regarded as the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, for he
was born after his mother's death, being taken from her body. As
one woman laughingly remarked, "We never think of him at the
proper time, only when we already need him."
Though free or inexpensive hospital service is available, poor
mothers usually stay at home for the delivery, attended by a mid-
wife, often a municipal employee. Even many upper-class moth-
5 In the town of Tres Rios, near the capital, where the chief crop is coffee, infant
mortality averaged x66.4 per thousand in the 1917-31 period. In 1932-36, with the
infant clinic, but without a "sanitary unit," the rate was 152.2; in 1937-41, with
both services, the rate averaged only 99-4.

Family Life 77
ers stay at home, explaining that they get more attention and
are more comfortable there.
In some regions of the country old superstitions about birth
persist. The woman in labor wears her husband's hat and coat
backward. A candle is lighted-a short one, so that labor will be
short. A decade ago similar customs were noted in Escazu, which,
though only three miles from the capital, is noted for the super-
stitious character of its people.
The mother . must suffer in silence, for if the pain wrings from
her an "ay" the child will tend to be drawn up into the womb again.
.. In the country districts some of the people believe that throwing
the grinding stone under the bed would help a mother who is having
difficulty in labor, and would bring on delivery at once. The afterbirth
is always buried. This custom is to prevent its being eaten by animals,
some believe, for if that were to happen, the mother might die or have
a serious illness. The umbilical cord is preserved for the mother, who
believes her baby's life will then be safer. If the baby is born with the
cord around its neck, it will be hanged. Blindness has its compensations,
for at least the child is sure to be intelligent.6
A baby born at seven months is sure to live and be intelligent,
but "an eight-month baby never lives." Little brothers and sis-
ters are usually told that the baby is a gift, came in the midwife's
bag, or was sent from another country.
In from two to five days after childbirth the lower-class woman
is usually about her work again. The upper-class mother, having
someone to help her, stays in bed for a week. Both believe that
very special care is needed in the first forty days after birth. A
servant girl from a little village in the coffee region says: "For
forty days there is danger; the mother has one foot in heaven and
the other on earth. She doesn't go out anywhere-not very far,
anyway, and never at night. She is not supposed to enter a church
until the forty days are over; then she goes and presents the child
e Charles Thomson, "Catching On to Life in Costa Rica," unpublished manuscript,

78 Family Life
to God. Before, women who respected their husbands did not step
outside the door during the forty days. Doing so showed lack of
respect and love for the husband."
Seeing the sick or the dead and taking cold baths during this
period are supposed to be harmful. The belief-discouraged by
the priests-that one should not go to church during these forty
days is most common among the lower class; the upper-class
women who agree to this custom rationalize it by saying that
the church floor is cold and it is harmful for one to get chilled.
Both, on further questioning, say this custom comes from the
Virgin Mary, who did not go to the temple until she presented
Christ on the fortieth day.
Presentation in the temple is a simple ceremony. The mother
merely carries the child to church on the fortieth day and prays
with him at the altar, offering him to God. A poor woman re-
ports, "I say to God, 'If this is going to be a good child, let me
keep it. If it is not going to be good, take it!' An upper-class
woman says, "I pray to God for the child's care." The ceremony
was formerly more elaborate, with a candle lighted in the door
of the church and a blessing from the priest.
Baptism usually occurs when the infant is a week or two old.
If for some reason it is delayed, a holy medal is pinned to his
clothing. Close friends, employers, or relatives are chosen as
padrinos or godparents. They take the child to the church, hav-
ing paid the priest and registered the baby's name and date of
birth the previous day; the parents usually stay at home.
If you ask a little Tico his name, he will rattle off about four
names in a single breath, "Jos6 Joaquin Fernandez Coto, a sus
ordenes" (at your service).
The name of the saint to whom the unborn child was offered
and the name of the saint on whose day it was born are automati-
cally included by most parents, masculine names sometimes be-
ing altered to suit girls, and vice versa. The third name, by which

Family Life 79
the child is usually called, is one chosen for a relative or simply
because the parents like it. Thus, a girl offered to the Santisima
Trinidad (Holy Trinity), born on the day of Saint Anacleto,
whose parents liked the name Mary, became Mary Ana de la
Santisima Trinidad. Her two surnames were Rodriguez Jimenez,
the first from her father's paternal surname, the second from her
mother's paternal surname. She was generally known as Mary
Rodriguez and signed her name so, adding a capital "J" for
After the baptism the padrinos, grandparents, and other rela-
tives and friends bring gifts to the home and partake of coffee,
liquor, and delicacies.
If anything happens to the parents, the godparents are re-
sponsible for the child's physical and moral welfare. Many say
this vow to act as second parents used to be taken more seriously
than it is at present. In the country the godparents usually adopt
the child if the parents die, but, a Heredia woman says, "People
of society don't care."
It used to be the custom for the child, once he learned to walk
and talk, to go daily to the home of his godparents, fold his hands,
and say, "Blessed and praised be the most holy sacrament of the
altar. Good morning, padrinos." Then godfather or godmother
embraced him and gave him a coin or sweetmeat. Within the last
generation the custom has declined greatly, especially in the
cities and among the "social" class. Says a man of forty, "The
last time I greeted my padrino as a little boy, all I got was a cheese
cookie, so I stopped." Christmas, birthdays, and the first com-
munion usually bring forth gifts from the padrinos.
Since baptism enrolls the child in the spiritual congregation and
insures that he will go directly to heaven if he dies before the age
of seven, this rite is neglected by very few parents. Those who
postpone or overlook it are criticized by the neighbors.
"The majority learn child-care from their own mothers, and

80 Family Life
just face the problems that come up in a routine way," says a
social worker. Some better-educated mothers follow the direc-
tions of a pediatrician or a book, but most turn to relatives for
Women of the "social" class often employ chinas, young coun-
try girls who earn from one to three dollars a month as nurse-
maids. The child is taken to the park to play on sunny days. In
the highlands, where temperature changes are rapid and frequent,
special care is taken to keep him from catching cold. In the lower
class, the oldest daughter takes care of the younger children. "Do
you know that my niece is twelve years old?" asked a servant
girl whose sister has ten children. "She is so tiny because ever
since she was three she has been carrying her younger sisters and
brothers around."
Babies are usually carried until they can walk well, for few
people have baby carriages or walkers. Lower-class mothers even
carry them to church fiestas and to market on shopping expedi-
tions, while men carry them when they are older.
It is commonly believed that the child's hair should not be cut
until he is talking clearly, for otherwise he will never learn to
talk with facility. Like many other beliefs prevalent today, this
is not mere superstition, but is based on misconceptions of physi-
ology. "They say if you cut their hair before they learn to talk,
the tongue gets twisted and the child never does learn to talk
right," said the mother of a two-year-old girl whose hair had
never been cut. When asked why, she said, "The hair is connected
with the brain." The sister of this mother was later told that there
is no basis for this belief, but she defended it with another pseudo-
scientific explanation, "Well, many children who have their hair
cut get drafts on their necks. That gives them an aire and so their
throats get sore or they catch cold and they never learn to talk
Costa Rican mothers of the "social" class "spare the rod." They

Family Life 81
believe in affection and letting a child do pretty much as he
pleases. If he falls, he is cuddled and petted until crying stops.
Rather than leave the child alone to get over a tantrum, they pick
him up, pet him, say, "Poor little one, father is coming, and he'll
bring you some little thing." Tricks and mischief are usually
laughed at, and when guests are present the child is urged to talk
and show off.
Grandmothers voice their disapproval. "Obedience is the prime
virtue, we learned," a seventy-five-year-old woman insists, "and
I'm glad I taught it to my children. But oh, the grandchildren,
you can't do anything with them!" Discipline problems of the
average Costa Rican school reflect this upbringing.
As the child grows older, when he has misbehaved he is denied
privileges such as going to the movies; he is often scolded and
given sermons on good conduct. Lower-class parents believe in
spankings; the leather sheath of the peon's knife is the Tico ver-
sion of the old razor strap. The father is usually the disciplinarian.
A little girl of the working class was playing in the street, when
she saw her father approaching. "He'll whip me," she cried, and
ran home. Soon she rejoined the group, having secured his permis-
Sex segregation in sleeping, bathing, and dressing early im-
presses sex differences and a sense of shame upon the growing
child, except where the home is so poor that all sleep in the same
room. Only on country vacations do girls wear slacks-for the
worship of "femininity" is begun early. When told how Ameri-
can babies live in sunsuits in the summertime, one mother said,
"I heard of it from a friend who visited the States and I suppose
it would be good. But my little girl would be ashamed to put one
Almost every Costa Rican child has some religious feeling, for
since babyhood the child has been carried occasionally to the
church, has seen the images, and has been impressed by the gran-

82 Family Life
deur, the color, and the music. The mother and grandmother are
especially zealous about the child's religious education, teaching
him evening prayers and recounting lives of the saints, taking him
to see processions, having him help to make the Christmas creche,
and surrounding him with religious objects which work a subtle
The child is proud to be able to kneel down himself and go
through the motions of the mass. From the age of seven he attends
weekly catechism classes, and he usually receives his first commun-
ion at the age of eight or nine, when he is assumed to be a full-
fledged member of the church, subject to all its rules and obliga-
tions. Many parents, especially of the upper class, exact religious
observance from children, but let them decide religious matters
for themselves when they are older. "I should like my children
to be religious, but from conviction rather than hypocrisy. If a
child doesn't believe when he is old enough to decide for himself,
I don't interfere," says a typical upper-class mother.
At the age of seven the average Costa Rican child enters school;
the son of a poor peasant stays only for a year or two, the child
of a lawyer or a doctor goes on through high school and possibly
to the university. Virtues taught at home are reinforced. Grade
readers lean heavily toward little stories with a moral tacked on,
to inculcate love of home, cleanliness, piety, charity, brotherhood,
and social consciousness. The newer texts give much attention to
health habits, housing, and diet. The school environment reflects
and seldom corrects the lack of discipline in the average home. It
also reflects the sex distinctions; there are many separate schools
for boys and girls, and play activities are usually segregated.
Although not all leave school at an early age to contribute to
the family budget, children are soon taught to share home re-
sponsibilities. Girls learn the domestic arts from working with
their mother. If she is poor or lives in the country, a girl begins
very young, learning the art of making tortillas at five or six.

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