Thursday, November 5, 2015

What is Culture? by Sarah French

“There is so much more culture in Nicaragua than in Costa Rica.” The thought crossed my mind and I even heard it said within a day of our being there. But what does that really mean? The buildings we saw are much more beautiful: colorful and colonial-style, but that is just because Costa Rica knocked their colonial buildings down.
The first day we arrived to our homestays in Masaya, we had the privilege of seeing the celebration of Fiesta de los Agüisotes, a holiday celebrating the patron saint of the city, San Jerónimo. There was a parade through the streets with residents dressed up in scary costumes, religious costumes, political costumes, and masks mocking the conquistadores. It is a celebration unique to Masaya, making it an even more special event to have experienced. To further honor San Jerónimo, every Sunday of October and November, traditional dances called folklore are held in various houses around the city of Masaya. Children dress up and dance to marimba, while the neighborhood gathers to cheer and celebrate together.
In León, we happened upon the end of a parade, there were school bands performing and dancing, it was all very impressive. There were huge crowds around the León Cathedral, outside of which the bands were performing. Later, we found out that this was a pro-government parade, organized by the presiding political party, Sandista National Liberation Front, to stomp out recent anti-government protests. It was mandatory for government workers and their families to attend the parade, with the threat of losing their jobs if they did not comply – a seemingly harmless celebration of school band talent, masking a large underlying problem.
What all of these “cultural” experiences have in common is Christianity, something that is not innately Nicaraguan, on the contrary it is something that was brought over relatively recently in the grand scheme. To applaud this as superior to the “culture” we have seen in Costa Rica is challenging; they had similar colonial influences, though do not demonstrate these as significantly now. For all we know this may show the superiority of Costa Rican “culture”, they were able to overcome the culture imposed on them and come into yet another. The perception of culture is complex, if a culture is different from our own we consider it to be stronger, though we do not consider how strong our own culture is to overpower that of others.

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