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The current world population is estimated at 7.8 billion inhabitants. Of that number, only 5 million of us are Costa Ricans, which does not even represent 1%. Of that minuscule number, it is estimated that only 2% of us have left our country. Among those intrepid people is Elías Alvarado, a young journalist originally from the southern part of Costa Rica, who migrated to the U.S. seven years ago. In this nation, he has built a family life and a very particular career: he is both a cab driver and journalist.
He lives in New Jersey but works in New York. He is a correspondent for Teletica, a channel where, in addition to reporting the news, he has dedicated himself to highlighting the stories of the struggle of Costa Ricans in the United States.
As we talk, Elias is in his car, which he calls his “office,” since it serves as a cab, dressing room and production booth.
He carries with him a thermos with Costa Rican coffee (the kind that Pope Francis recognizes as “the best coffee in the world”) and when I ask him how many Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) there are in this country, he answers that “there is no official data. I have consulted several times. The consul estimates that there are around 80,000 Ticos between New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It is assumed that where there are more Ticos is in New Jersey, which is already known as the eighth province”.
According to Elías, the reason why so many Ticos have moved to the “garden state” is because of the similarities with Costa Rica: “It is a very green state. It is comfortable and quiet to live in.
Unlike people of other nationalities who tend to form large groups —Cubans, Dominicans or Puerto Ricans—Alvarado says that Ticos “are a dispersed community because there are not many of us and everyone is on their own. The Tico meetings usually take place in September, the month of Independence.”
Since he took up his job as Teletica’s correspondent in New York —a rather unusual figure for Costa Rican television—Alvarado has made an effort to show that Ticos are hard-working people, who migrate to bring progress to the places that welcome us.
“The Ticos here treat me very well. They are very happy that I have been able to give visibility to those of us who are outside Costa Rica, because we were a little forgotten. There are Ticos all over the world making our dreams come true. We can be found in the most humble jobs or in prestigious positions in universities, laboratories or large companies. I have tried to make this Costa Rican community visible and this has been well received. I have had the opportunity to tell the stories of Costa Ricans who have left their families behind and the drama of migrants.”
Elías is undocumented. He is waiting for the resolution of the process through which his brothers—American citizens—requested his permission to stay in the country. Since he migrated seven years ago, he has not returned to Costa Rica.
“Time goes by very fast. There is no time to think about returning to Costa Rica. You have to live for today, not worry about tomorrow. The pandemic showed us that. I live for today. If I were to return to Costa Rica tomorrow, I would do it with pleasure. I live proud of where I come from. I think that every day is less and less. I have never committed crimes and everything will come out at the right time,” he explains.
The journalist is optimistic about the future of undocumented migrants in the country and feels that this is still a nation of opportunities. After all, he has achieved stability that would be unthinkable for many in Costa Rica. He has done it all from his cab.
“The cab is what feeds me, my wife and my baby. It is something honest and I am not at all ashamed of what I do. I’m a cab driver in New York, I work 12 to 15 hours a day. I do it with a lot of love. At night, I come in, take off my work clothes, put on a jacket and tie and do the news. I am both the cab driver and the reporter, the husband, the dad, the brother… All of that. I’m still me without changing my attitude,” he says proudly.
When I talk to Elías I realize that he perfectly represents the idea I have of us Ticos. He is an honest man, a family man, a professional, a hard worker. He is a good citizen who seeks to grow without harming anyone. That is the Tico who should represent us in the world.
“We have the opportunity to do things in the best way to leave the name of our country high and always have good things to say about us,” says Elias convinced.
He has done it to the fullest.