Identifying with The Lions of León

I love talking to people and hearing their stories, the only problem is that I don’t love approaching people, especially when I am not as comfortable with their language. Last Friday we did  what is called the “SIT drop-off” and experienced the city of León in pairs. Upon arrival we were left at different stops and given a question to explore in whichever method we found best. Our objective was to find out who the Patron Saint of León is, how important religion is in the community, and learn the beginning of a common religious song.

My friend Jameson and I wandered around for a bit, smiling expressively at people we thought we would talk to but backing out last minute, so we just looked super creepy and over enthusiastic. How do you approach somebody? I mean, obviously walk up and introduce yourself, but that is so unlike anything I’ve ever done! I’m from the East Coast where nobody speaks to anyone other than the formalities of greetings. But this is what traveling is all about, leaving your comfort zone to become an active participant in the community.

Determined, I approached two older ladies sitting at a stall selling snacks and sodas, notebook in hand and enthusiasm in heart!

Hi, how are you? Are you from León? “Doña Paula. Yes, born and raised.” Good job Astrea! Ease into it with small talk! Now time to cross over to religion. What’s the name of that cathedral over there? “The cathedral.” Of course it is…It’s okay Astrea, brush it off, you’ll make a come back! After a lot of smiling, laughing, and more questions Doña Paula eventually pulled up a couple of chairs in the shade and commanded that we sit down. We quickly discovered that the Patron Saint is the Virgin Mercedes and that Doña Paula was Evangelical, which I later discovered means anything other than Catholic in Central America. As she spoke enthusiastically about our sins, which Christ carries on his shoulders, her nephew, accompanied with a young boy selling ice creams from a cart, approached the stall and jokingly asked her to calm down before she scares us away.

He sings in the church, she told us before continuing to help us find Jesus. “What kind of music is it? Could you sing something for us?” This was the perfect segue into learning a religious song. Little did we know we would learn about 7 religious songs that day, including Jehovah es mi Guerrero.

It was incredible sitting with Doña Paula and hearing her and the young boy sing songs of their religion with passion and pride. For me, the highlight of this whole interaction came when a man came to buy a soda and inquired as to who Jameson and I were. She’s more Nica than you think, she responded. And with that I felt officially welcomed into Nicaragua as a young, half-Nicaraguan, half-Costa Rican, born in the USA, woman.

I’ve always had pretty big identity issues (which I’ll most likely continue to bring up throughout the semester), mainly because people like to box me in ethnically/racially. To my peers in the U.S I am “Hispanic,” to Latinos I’m “la Americana,” to the U.S census I am Other, to the Common Application for colleges I was Native American; tribe: Mestizo. How can other people define me culturally when I can’t even define myself? Before going to Costa Rica I knew hardly anything about being Tica, as was the case when I boarded the plane for Managua. Just because I eat rice, beans, and tortillas religiously, listen to Salsa, and am proficient in Spanish, doesn’t mean I can identify with my Nica-Tica heritage. Doña Paula’s comment made me feel as though I had a place in Nicaragua. To her I wasn’t a fraud or a disgrace. I wasn’t lost or divergent. I was returning home.


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