The trip was fast-paced, with two full days of travel to get to and from Ciudad Quesada and a handful of dance performances in three days. The group performed at two elementary schools, an immigration event sponsored by Alianza Migrante (complete with a rally and march calling for immigrants’ rights) called “Dia del Migrante,” and a church. At each stop 14 dancers and two musicians performed six to eight dances, including La Negrita, La Húngara, La Madrugada, El Solar de Monimbo, and the famous Palo de Mayo from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. This year the group had a marimba and a marimba player along, which added a lot to the traditional flavor of the performances. Performances were packed, and audiences were enthralled by the dancers and the music. During the school performances, Patricia Ruiz, the group’s director, would bring children onstage to learn the basic pasos (steps). And after the performances at the “Dia del Migrante,” several immigrants chatted with me about how the dances carried them back to their childhoods. They also shared some of the struggles faced by Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica. I was struck by the similarities between these stories and those that I’ve heard in my work with immigrants in the U.S. The struggle for the right to work, the right to an education, and the right to live free from discrimination were all mentioned at the “Dia del Migrante.”
From small children to grandparents, people were delighted with the performances, and their smiles made the group’s impact obvious. And watching the young people dance, I could see their passion for this art form and for their culture in their smiles and the way they moved their hips. It was a powerful experience for me as a foreigner in Nicaragua to observe how a group Nicaraguan young people experience being foreigners. One young dancer, Jorge, told me that last year he was moved to tears by the joy he felt at having the opportunity to travel outside his country and the pride he felt in representing the core of his identity as a Nicaraguan and as a young man through dance. When I’m in Nicaragua, I don’t think much about taking pride in being from the U.S. and sharing my culture with others, so these young people gave me much new insight into my role as a foreign volunteer.