Anacristina Rossi’s Limón Reggae:

Pancaribbean identity and Central American Politics.


Laura/Aisha, the protagonist of Limón Reggae, the latest novel by Costa Rican author Anacristina Rossi, is the daughter of a Lebanese mother and a mulatto father who lives in San José.  Her heritage and skin color do not fit the official profile of Costa Rican identity which, from the nineteenth century nationalist impulse to its consolidation in the twentieth century imaginary, highlights light skin and European ancestry, and erases regional and ethnic difference. Laura feels out of place in San José due not only to this racial tension but also because of the pathological abjection that she observes among the poor in the city, particularly the cruelty that street kids show against animals. This is something that, as a child, she can not understand and that she names simply as “eso,” or “that thing.”  Eso,” a perversion to which extreme long-term poverty and neglect might lead, becomes a central theme in this novel’s project of exploration of the root causes of violence in Central America, both at the personal and political levels. 

As it is the case with Rossi’s other literary texts, Limón Reggae pays tribute to the natural and human beauty of Limón, Costa Rica’s Caribbean province. Unlike San José and the Central Valley, Limón is an emotional refuge for Laura during the summers that she spends with her maternal aunt and role-model Maroz, a strong woman who preserves her Lebanese cultural identity amidst pluricultural and patriarchal Limón, and who gives Laura the Middle Eastern name Aisha. Limón also offers Laura/Aisha a political education to which most likely she would have never had access in the Central Valley when she joins a group of West Indian teenagers influenced by the ideas of Marcus Garvey and of the North American Black Panther movement. This group’s main concerns are the racist policies of the Costa Rican government towards Limón and finding spiritual as well as political grounding for their activism. But Aisha is eventually rejected from this group because of her heritage and skin color.  To her Costa Rican West Indian friends she is not sufficiently black and, culturally, they consider her a “paña,” i.e., Hispanic, and therefore, unwelcome.  It is at this point that she comes to the realization that she is a Costa Rican for whom Costa Rica doesn’t feel like home. This deep lack of belonging that the protagonist feels sets the stage for Rossi’s exploration of ethnic and gender subalternity within Costa Rica, major themes that she had already introduced in her previous novel Limón Blues (2002). The realization of not belonging, together with the images of brutalized poor youth in San José, push the protagonist to look for other sources of identity and empowerment, which she eventually finds through her involvement with the political left and guerrilla warfare in El Salvador, and through a pan-Caribbean multifaceted identity whose tenuous cohesion is symbolized by the rhythm and rebellious lyrics of reggae music, which Laura/Aisha qualifies as “ecumenical” for its inclusiveness of all peoples who fight domination of one sort or another.   The plot line starts in the 1970s and concludes after the 2001 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers.

Political history informs much of Rossi’s work but Limón Reggae is by far her most political text to date.  If in Limón Blues she exposed the racist policies and politics of the Costa Rican nation state against Limón’s West Indian population, in Limón Reggae she trespasses national boundaries to review, from a leftist perspective, the revolutionary history of Central America in the last three decades of the twentieth century, within the frame of the US and Cuba’s thirst for control of the region, and black emancipation movements in Africa, the Americas and the US.  Through Laura/Aisha’s mind’s development from adolescence in the seventies to her mature years by the end of the novel, Rossi painstakingly recreates the process of becoming politically aware and of coming to the realization that it is only through political revolution that the ideal of a just society can be reached. It is a fresh look at the nowadays demonized left, not to hide its failures but to highlight its idealistic drive and its past and present political potential.  As the author herself has said in various interviews, Limón Reggae is an effort to explain to young people today the promise of utopia that lead a whole generation of Central Americans in the past to take up arms, the tragedy of losing those dreams to the corruption of leaders and governments under ominous US pressures in the region, and the relationship of those events to today’s reality of poverty, urban violence and political frustration in the isthmus. Rossi is as critical of the left as of the right political spectrums.

Rossi initially conceived Limón Blues and Limón Reggae as a diptych on historical revisionism of West Indian presence in Costa Rica. But her aesthetic goals changed in the process of writing Limón Reggae. Her celebration of Afro-Costa Rican difference and history is intact here, but she also highlights ideological contradictions among this subaltern group in their continued fight against state racism.  Limón Reggae also presents a pessimistic outlook on the future of West Indian youth in Costa Rica. The message is that even today there is no future for most of them there. That is why, perhaps, the main West Indian characters in the novel end up finding success only abroad, in New York.  But however thematically different Rossi’s two most recent novels are, several stylistic features link them together.  The combination of

Spanish and Limonense English that she experimented with in Limón Blues appears here but more subdued, making the text more easily readable, particularly by a Spanish speaking readership with no knowledge of the English language. Eroticism also has a prominent space in this novel. As nineteenth-century Latin American romances had done, erotic liaisons in Limón Blues had represented allegorically new national alliances that crossed class and racial lines, in this case between West Indian and Central Valley Costa Ricans.  Limón Reggae’s liaisons go a step further erasing national boundaries. Aisha’s reciprocated deep desire for Fernando, for example, highlights what Costa Ricans and Salvadorans share socially and politically, and contradicts the myth of Costa Rica’s uniqueness among its Central American neighbors.  Rossi’s iconoclastic intent in Limón Reggae, a staple of her latest narratives, does not disappoint. And, incidentally, her ironic critique of Oscar Arias as the architect of Central American peace is very apropos now that he is back in power.

Limón Reggae accomplishes in fiction what Gioconda Belli’s El país bajo mi piel did in autobiography a few years ago. It gives an honest look at the end of the twentieth century’s political struggles in Central America through marginalized perspectives that need to be listened to, perhaps more than ever today:  those of women and of the political left. But Limón Reggae highlights a much less discussed case than that of Nicaragua: the Salvadoran war and the quiet involvement of the Costa Rican political right and left in that struggle. 


Sofía Kearns

Furman University



Belli, Gioconda.  El país bajo mi piel.  Memorias de amor y guerra.  Barcelona:  Plaza y Janés, 2001

Rossi, Anacristina.  Limón Blues. Cali:  Colombia, Alfaguara, 2002.

---.  Limón Reggae.  San José: Costa Rica:  Legado, 2007. 

Sommer, Doris.  Foundational Fictions.  The National Romances of Latin America.  Berkeley, Los Angeles, OxfordUniversity of California Press, 1991