Africa: Afro-Descendants in Costa Rica – a Movement for Justice & Equity


SAN José, Costa Rica — Jan André is a cheerful and outgoing young man, a superb dancer, and aspiring schoolteacher. Indeed, he wants to become the best schoolteacher in Costa Rica. Fortified by his own will and the encouragement of his family, he overcame violence and adversity to become an outstanding university student.

Yet, in spite of his accomplishments, some people cross the street when they see him coming their way. They hide their belongings when he approaches them on the bus. Guards and staff single him out for surveillance when he enters a supermarket. Police search him and seize his belongings even when he is in a crowd in a public space.

Deeply affected by these experiences, Jan André is now fighting for the rights of people of African descent in Costa Rica.

Inspired by Jan’s work, my colleagues and I decided that the UN has a crucial role in collecting and sharing the life stories of Afro-Costa Ricans. The resulting stories are collected under an initiative called “I am Afro-descendant in Costa Rica and this is my story.”

Published online and in the form of a book, these stories were also designed to celebrate the first International Day for People of African Descent and the bicentenary of Costa Rica’s independence.

With this initiative, we wanted to stop talking about Afro-descendants in the abstract and instead introduce our readers to a variety of women and men, young and old, rural and urban. All of them as unique individuals who help make Costa Rica what it is today.

What have we learned from these stories?

On the one hand, we were able to reveal the incredible diversity of the Afro-descendant community in Costa Rica, the life stories, struggles and dreams true to each one of our profiles. On the other hand, however, we identified a shared experience of discrimination and injustice, a common sense of not being ‘seen’ in their own country and a collective strength that is borne out of families and communities.

It is not for Afro-descendants to “overcome” the discrimination and exclusion to which they are subjected. It is up to all of us to eradicate racism and the enduring legacy of slavery.

That is why, in December 2020, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that 31 August would henceforth be the International Day for People of African Descent. The resolution was initiated by the Government of Costa Rica, led by its Vice-President, Epsy Campbell, and garnered the support of 52 member states.

With UNFPA as the leading entity, we in Costa Rica marked the first commemoration of this international day last year.