Jun 16 5:25 PM

A player and a goal question Costa Rica's xenophobia

Nicaraguan-born Óscar Duarte, left, in action for Costa Rica against Uruguay.
Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters

The referee gave Costa Rica a free kick. It was the 56th minute of play. The was dangerously close to Uruguay's goal, to the left of their defense. At the other side was the intended recipient, Óscar Duarte, struggling with a "charrúa" defender. But Duarte managed to beat him and he headed the ball towards the goal. The "Brazuca", softly, crossed the goal line. Duarte now had the Central American team leading the South Americans.

But the impact of this goal went beyond the game, which was played in Fortaleza during the 2014 Brazil World Cup and which Costa Rica won 3-1. Óscar Esau Duarte Gaitán was born in 1989 in the Masaya department in Nicaragua and so he represents the populous and important Nicaraguan community in Costa Rica. He came to this country with his family, a ragged ball and a pair of cleats, when he was barely five years old. That is why he embodies the hundreds of people that left their homes in search of opportunities and dreams, jobs, education and health south of the San Juan river, that forms the border between the two countries.

Unfortunately, the almost half a million of Nicaraguans – "legal" or "illegal" – that live in Costa Rica have been considered as "the others", "the menace", "the intruders" and "the dangerous". So, historically, they have been the object of cultural humiliations, intolerant jokes and daily disdain.

"Nica" migration grew exponentially during the '80s and '90s, when it became a "problem" for some and a political rallying point for others. It was a phenomenon that was made worse by the growing political and diplomatic differences between the governments of the two countries. Migration also became the "perfect excuse" to justify xenophobia.

With his great performance against Uruguay, Duarte earned the empathy, affection and admiration of "Tricolor" fans. He ousted assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes. Somehow he managed to bring down borders, even if only during the celebration of victory. The sad memories of so many and the many insults received by his compatriots and surely by himself, were erased by that one moment at the high-profile sporting event.

The "nica-tico"'s header dismantled the arguments of many hateful actions. A header that, momentarily, weakened the social and discursive bases of differentiation, violence and discrimination. A "golazo" that deconstructed and undressed our abusive nationalism, our alienating patriotism. This is a new lesson that football teaches xenophobia; it is a call to the hospitality and fraternity that can and should exist between the people of these two nations in the isthmus.


Costa Rica, Nicaragua
World Cup

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