“I Speak and Look the Same, Yet I am Different” Racism and Education in South – South Migration

About the Presentation

Immigration has historically precipitated xenophobic attitudes and increased racial tensions between the citizens of the host country and the recent arrivals. Traditionally, language, skin color, and racial differences have been the most notable differences that separate the immigrant from the host national. Immigrants pay a heavy price for being of a different color and having an accent (Orelus, 2011). 

Two decades of continued migration from Nicaragua into Costa Rica illustrates a prime example of south-south or cross-border migration and the subsequent marginalization and oppression of the arrivals (Locke & Ovando, 2012; Sandoval G. 2006). Yet unlike south – north migration or the immigration of Latinos into the United States, the case of migrants into Costa Rica represents a unique case because of similarities in language, racial and cultural heritage, and a shared colonial history. Moreover, over 50% of Nicaraguan immigrants to Costa Rica are single women with children. While the current population of Nicaraguan migrants has stabilized at about 6% of the total population, hostility towards the migrant has not lessened (Sandoval G., 2013). For Duffield (2006), this phenomenon speaks to the interconnection between racism, migration, and international development.

Thus this study explores the dimensions of racial discrimination in Costa Rica in the context of international development and what Duffield (2006) states is the underpinnings of an emerging regime of planetary order. In particular this study looks at the development of Costa Rican identity through its education system and popular media. It also examines the dilemma of identity that the education system places on Nicaraguan children who are educated and remain in Costa Rica.

About the Speaker

Dr. Carlos J. Ovandois Emeritus Professor in the School of Transborder Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University. He received his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, Spanish and Portuguese, and International Comparative Education from Indiana University.  A former high school Spanish teacher, his research, teaching, and service focus on factors that contribute to the academic achievement of language minority students and ethnically diverse groups. His most recent research focuses on south-to-south international migration in Central America, school reform in Mexico, English as world language in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru, the limits and possibilities of doing qualitative research in non-western sociocultural and linguistic contexts.

His work has appeared in the Educational Research Quarterly, the Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education (1st and 2nd editions); The Handbook of Educational Theories (IAP, 2013); Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Educational Researcher, Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education (Sage, 2012), Peabody Journal of Education, Bilingual Research Journal, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, Kappan Delta Pi Record, World Yearbook 2003: Language Education, Race, Ethnicity, and Education, the Encyclopedia of Bilingual Education (Sage, 2008); the Harvard Educational Review. His books include: (with Mary Carol Combs) Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in Multicultural Contexts, 5th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2012); (with Mary Carol Combs and Virginia P. Collier) Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in Multicultural Contexts, 4th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2006); (with Peter McLaren)The Politics of Multiculturalism and Bilingual Education: Teachers and Students Caught in the Cross Fire (McGraw-Hill, 2000) and (with Colleen Larson)The Color of Bureaucracy: The Politics of Equity in Multicultural School Communities (Thompson/Wadsworth, 2001). His most recent piece is titled “ The Conflicted Origins and Future of Spanish in the United States” (Ariel Publishers, Madrid, Spain, in press). 

Sponsored by the Fulbright Commission, the U.S. Embassy, and the Peruvian Ministry of Education, in 2010 Professor Ovando served as a consultant to Peru on the topic of English as a world language.  In 2006 he served as a consultant to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) in a Mexico/United States initiative promoting the acquisition of English from pre-school to the high school level. Teaching English as an additional language P-K 12 in now required in the public schools in Mexico. Prof. Ovando has conducted research involving Mexican-origin families and their children who have recently returned to Mexico from the United States because of draconian anti-undocumented legislation (cf. SB 1070 in Arizona) and the prevailing economic crisis in the United States. The objective of the study was to examine the societal and schooling dynamics associated with this reverse migration into Mexican society and the educational system. 

He has given presentations in Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, England, Guam, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Netherlands, Perú, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States.  In the Springs of 2013 and 2014 he took a group of students from Arizona State University to Nicaragua and Colombia, respectively, to explore these countries and to engage in community service. He has been a professor of Education at Indiana University at Bloomington, Oregon State University, the University of Alaska at Anchorage, and the University of Southern California. Professor Ovando’s has received two Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards from the School of Education at Indiana University, The Dr. Eugene Garcia Outstanding Research in Higher Education Award, Sponsored by the Victoria Foundation, 2013; Finalist 2011 President’s Professor, School of Transborder Studies, Arizona State University; 2010 Distinguished Latino Alumni Award from Indiana University, 2010. He is a naturalized citizen of the United States. In December 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2013 he went back to Nicaragua in search of his cultural and linguistic heritage. He can be reached at carlos.ovando@asu.edu


Duffield, M. (2006). Racism, migration and development: the foundations of planetary order.Progress in Development Studies, 6/1, 68-79.

Locke, S., & Ovando, C. J. (2012). Nicaraguans and the educational glass ceiling in Costa Rica: The stranger in our midst.Power and Education, 4/2, 127-138.

Locke, S., & Ovando, C.J. (2012).  South-south migration: Unwelcome Nicaraguan neighbors in Costa Rica.  In C.A. Torres (Ed.),  Encyclopaideia: Journal of phenomenology and education—Special Issue on Migration and Social Justice—Bononia University Press. (Refereed); www.encyclopaideia.it

Orelus, P. W. (2011). Courageous voices of immigrants and transnationals of color: counter narratives against discrimination in schools and beyond. NY: Peter Lang.

Ovando, C. J., & Locke, S. (2012). Finding and reading road signs in ethnographic research: Studying the language and stories of theunwelcome stranger (pp.233 – 249)  In K. Davis (Ed.), Critical qualitative research in second language studies: Agency and advocacy. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Sandoval G., C. (2006). Otros amenazantes: Los nicaragüenses y la formación de identidades nacionales en Costa Rica. (Other threats: The Nicaraguans and the formation of national identity in Costa Rica). San Jose Costa Rica: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica.