Some way or other, Ticos are all family. Just like Smith is a very common last name in the U.K. and in the U.S., Rodriguez, and Vargas are the most common last names in Costa Rica.
When you marry a Rodriguez, your first born might be number 102,498 of the Rodriguez clan. There is a good chance that your first born will marry a Vargas and can be number 90,692 or 90,700 of the Vargas family.
And there is, of course, a good chance that you’ll meet a Vargas Vargas, as Ticos have two last names. The population of Costa Rica has not even reached the 5 million mark yet.
Did you know that the Costa Rican president is Carlos Alvarado Quesada? And that his main contender during the 2018 elections was Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz of the religious National Restauration Party?
My car mechanic’s name is Eduardo Alvarado. Besides Eduardo. I have 5 more people on my iPhone with that Alvarado last name. I also have 5 Vargas and 4 Rodriguez.
They say numbers talk. These 3 people Alvarado, one way or the other, are probably all family. There are 44,656 people in Costa Rica with that same last name.
An analysis of the Civil Register by Amalia Rueda shows that of the total of 34,154 surnames registered in the country, 20 identify a quarter of Costa Ricans born in the last century, 1,062,279 people. Yes, you read that well, 20 families identify a ¼ of the population. Ticos are all family, or almost all.
Family is very important in Costa Rican society, and they’re proud of being all family. At a party, you’ll sometimes find people who never met before, trying to figure out how they’re related to each other.
Where are you from?
Ticos will ask other where they’re from and where their grandfather came from. Then, by asking each other questions like “do you know Juancho”? Then “the one who was Saprisista”? “No, the one who would hang out in the cantina La Primavera every day after 4 pm”. Little by little, they will narrow it all down.
Chepe asks Chema during a meeting, “I’m from Cot de Cartago, and you? Carajo, Chema says, my sister married a guy from Cot. Her name is Mariellos, and he is Chuz. No way, it sounds like your sister is married to my mother’s 2nd cousin.”
One way or the other, between them they’ll figure out they are related through the sister’s ex-husband’s 2nd cousin’s nephew. They’re all family.
Costa Rica, though it’s not so small town anymore as it used to be, is basically still a village. Therefore everyone knows each other or knows someone who knows someone. And it is part of the culture.
Family values matter very much in Costa Rica and they stick together. For generations, the children would live with mom and dad, even after they got married and had children of their own. Kids would go to the same school as their parents and grandparents did. It was so small town that even if they were not all family, they would at least treat each other like that.
A change in culture
With over 5 million Ticos, it’s getting hard to keep track of the family anymore. Because they study in another city, meet different people, they marry people from other cities. They only go “home” for Christmas and Semana Santa. They start traveling and have different hobbies than their parents had. Immediate family is becoming more important than the sister’s ex-husband’s 2nd cousin’s nephew.
Therefore, expats will be able to integrate into local social life better than they did before. Oh yes, Ticos have always been nice to you. They will say hi and good morning, they might even tell you to come over for a cup of coffee soon.
But they won’t’ give you their address.
It’s a matter of being very polite but not willing to allow strangers into their lifestyle, which is all about all family. When they go to the beach, they go with the whole family. Birthdays are celebrated with the whole family. Also, Christmas and other holidays, are spent with all family. Grandparents, kids, grandkids, cousins and nephews, it’s all in the family.
Adding more names
In addition, so many foreigners like me, who have moved here and marry a local, make all family matters now much less important. My kids are really not so much interested in their mom’s family as their mom and grandma were. And of course, we are inserting our family names into the local culture like there is no tomorrow.
The next generations will have a more urban lifestyle. This obliges them to be more open to socializing with strangers from other countries instead of having parties that were all family.
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