On a brisk spring morning 14 years ago, my Costa Rican father and gringa (Caucasian) mother got up at 3:30 in the morning and waited in line all day to ensure my enrollment in a bilingual immersion elementary school. When I reached middle and high school, they coerced me (that may be a slight exaggeration) into taking French and Spanish, no matter how competent the teachers. Language classes have always been a part of my life.
But my most unexpected linguistic lesson happened in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle, 20 kilometers from civilization. I had been volunteering for a week at La Sirena, a national park ranger station popular for its lush wildlife and lack of 21st century technology. I couldn’t help but overhear a Tico (Costa Rican) tour guide educate a group of gringos (Americans) on why Ticos are more gracious and hospitable than the most commonly know Central Americans, Mexicans.