I arrived in the house today after church to find that the entire
family was over and everyone had one purple-tipped finger. No one else
seemed to think this at all out of the ordinary, so I withheld my
confusion and after a few minutes asked about it casually in conversation.
The purple-tipped finger signals that a Peruvian has voted. Today are
the presidential elections for Peruvians, and so here in the Peruvian
household where I live there is a big hooh-hah about the current
candidates. I haven't heard anything regarding the elections until
about a week ago, but the degree of electricity in the air inspires me
to write about this fascinating occurrence. Cousins and aunts and other
relatives are all over, each bearing the purple mark on their fingers
to show that they've voted. Voting in Peru is mandatory... you are
fined something like $57 dollars if you try and perform any legal
transaction using your ID card if you haven't voted. So everyone here
in the house made sure to vote.
Some things about the elections seem the same. Over lunch there is
passionate conversation about the different qualities each candidate
brings, small concessions made for the opposition and huge claims made
for the family favorite. The conversation ranges from position on
social issues to how the candidates look and dress. The "authentic
nationality" of one of the candidates is a big issue of contention.
Some people keep switching the channel to Smallville between political
updates. Everyone in the family votes for the same person except the
rebellious teenage son, who votes for someone else for reasons that are
unclear and infuriating to the rest of the family.
There are some major differences as well, from what I am used to in
elections. First of all is the mandatory voting thing and the purple
finger. You gotta make sure it covers your fingernail and don't you
dare wash it off for at least 24 hours. Also, there are five main
candidates running with a distinct possibility of winning, not just
two. The far left candidate (not referred to by name but as the
Chavista, from Hugo Chaves) is actually far left, not just less
right. There is a woman in the running, the daughter of the infamous
Alberto Fujimori which I remember learning about in International
Relations class only because of what I thought of as a very non-Latin
American sounding name. Also, I found it interesting that when I asked
what political party the family favorite was from, they said he came
out of nowhere and was basically running his own party.
As I am surrounded by the excitement of the small Peruvian consortium
in my household, I am intrigued by the fact that in the Costa Rica
world right now, nothing is really happening. In most households right
now, it's just like any other Sunday. I was reflecting that this is one
of countless experiences I've had with other immigrant groups here in
Costa Rica - Columbian independence day, Thanksgiving dinner with U.S.
Americans are two examples. These national celebrations turn immigrant
populations into an uproar and throw everyone together to tune into
news or sports from "home," while the streets outside seem quiet and
totally unaware the need for excitement and activity.
Another thing that strikes me about these celebrations, especially with
my church (the majority of which is Columbian) that I realized early
on... that we're all immigrants in this country together. I never
thought of myself as an immigrant partly because of the stigmatization
attached to the word, which isn't really directed toward myself. I tend
to work and congregate with other immigrants, though. I remember
feeling this especially toward the beginning of my time here when I
realized that other immigrants had this valuable pool of knowledge
about how to make the best of their time here in Costa Rica while still
being foreigners without official citizenship. Other immigrants are
super resourceful about how they get around and know some of the most
beautiful, free places to spend time (at parks, cheap beaches, etc...).
They also have these huge celebrations for events from "home" that no
one else is privy to. They also have their special food products that
can only be found in their home country - regardless of whether these
special foods actually taste good or not, they evoke memories of their
childhood and home (for Peruvians this is Inca Cola [which tastes like
every other carbonated fruit drink I've tasted], chicha morada [which
is a really uniquely flavored purple corn drink], and some special
brand of Christmas fruitcake [has to be the special brand] which is not
really that appetizing.)
This is such a familiar feeling for me, though... walking in on an
explosion of activity where everyone knows there is a clear cause for
celebration and drama, yet the reason and excitement is lost to me.
Even after the reason for all the hoohah is explained to me, I still
have a hard time getting as excited about everyone else about it. It's
pretty interesting to watch, though.