Growing up 1/2 Tica (1/2 Costa Rican)
By Becky Clower
It wasn’t until I was in College that I truly appreciated what it is to grow up “Media Tica’ (half Costa Rican for those who don’t know what “Tica” means). When I was growing up, my mom made it a point to speak to my brother and myself in Spanish every opportunity she could. Even during my stubborn adolescent times I would answer her back in English, but always appreciating this ‘other’ language I was being spoken to. The big issue is when you grow up in a suburb outside of Buffalo, New York, you don’t get to use Spanish as much as you would like to. My high school consisted of very few Latinos. As a matter of fact, in my entire grade, there was only one Latino and myself (the half Latina). We didn’t have much in the way of cultural diversity. The fact that I was bilingual was almost ‘strange’ to some. The fact that I didn’t look remotely Tica didn’t help either. I basically spoke Spanish with my mother, her few friends from Venezuela, Mexico and Dominican Republic and my high school Spanish teacher, Senor Alvarez, from Cuba.
I can only imagine what it was like for my mom to go from Costa Rica to Buffalo. I mean, what a change…. In every way—extremes from weather to culture and language. As an example, when I was a child, getting your hands on a plantain turned into an all-day affair. You had to go to a not-so-great area of downtown Buffalo in a Puerto Rican neighborhood to find these elusive plantains. But for my mother, it was worth it—to not only buy plantains, but to be able to cook these and share her heritage with my brother and I. Of course, years later, my mom was so ecstatic when Tops International grocery store opened up 5 minutes down the road. Latino food galore, practically at your doorstep. That changed so many things for her! My mom made the best platanos and gallo pinto (Costa Rica’s rice and bean typical dish). Most kids growing up in Williamsville, New York, didn’t grow up eating pinto and eggs and platanos. So it was interesting to others…. My friends would ask ‘are you really eating rice and beans for breakfast’. LOL. My mom was a local celebrity, literally. My friends loved my mother. They asked how “Ana” was doing and can you do an Ana imitation. Obviously being around my mom all the time, I was able to master her way of speaking. If you know the show Love Boat, and you remember Charo, well, that was my mom back then. Or perhaps what Sofia Vergara on Modern Family is today for many–A spunky beautiful lady with a thick Costa Rican accent who cracked people up with her sometimes not-perfect English and ‘funny’ accent.
My Tica side is my best side, for many reasons. I truly believe that if it weren’t for that Tica side, I wouldn’t have rhythm and wouldn’t have been able to learn salsa and merengue with ease when I arrived in Costa Rica in 2006. I would not have had a true appreciation and understanding for what a tough language Spanish is! I mean seriously—there are so many verbs, commands and conjugations. Let’s not even go into the massive amount of Pachuco (Costa Rican slang)! I speak Spanish and I don’t have to think about it much. After 30+ years I still make an occasional mistake. My children are lucky to have been born here and growing up bilingual. There is really no greater gift. I have visited Costa Rica every single year since I was a baby in 1978. I also lived here in 1996 with my aunt in San Jose and studied Spanish for a summer. I have seen so many changes in this small country over those years and for that I am thankful. I have seen ferry’s that have turned into bridges, dirt roads turn into paved roads, stop signs turn into stoplights and airports opening up where they never existed (Liberia). I got to see Costa Rica when no one even knew what or where Costa Rica was. Priceless!
I think the one thing that being half Tica has brought to my life is the appreciation for life and people in general. Against all odds, my mom bettered her life. Growing up she would always tell us stories about how she walked to school miles and also how she didn’t even have her first pair of shoes until she was several years old. Until I was old enough to understand, and see for myself that many people do in fact still live like that in more rural parts of Costa Rica, I thought she was just making up stories. Boy was I wrong there. Making me realize that you don’t have to have ‘things’ to make you happy. I think that in fact that is a big difference between what I felt my first 28 years growing up in the USA. My mother is a selfless person who loves to help everyone. Every year we would visit, she would fill up suitcases with things to give away to family and those less fortunate. Growing up media Tica gives meaning to working hard to achieve goals, appreciate others, appreciate family and appreciate life. Trying to find a peaceful balance, which can be tough for many of us to achieve. We all know Life is short and you have to live it to the fullest.
Bio on Ana Cecila Vargas—my mother who I adore. Born in Palmar Norte, Costa Rica in 1953 but spent many years in Guayabo de Bagaces, Guanacaste. Ana is one of 7 children, 5 of whom currently reside in Costa Rica near San Jose. She moved to Chicago in the mid 1970’s at the ripe age of 21. Back in the 1970’s, this was a very crazy thing to do. Not only because she was Costa Rican—but because she was single, and spoke zero English. She borrowed money from a family friend, bought a one way ticket and obtained a one year visitor visa. She went to Chicago and worked various jobs and along the way met my dad. While my mother and father lived in Costa Rica for 5 years, they currently reside in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida but visit Costa Rica often. And the rest is history as they say.