Most countries don’t have the political correctness we do. They also don’t have the diversity. With diversity, comes great clashes and pains and scars. Then, out of that, is born a natural and understandable sensitivity. And so political correctness is born.

I lived in Costa Rica for a while. There’s no such thing as PC there. Someone who looks Asian is referred to as El Chino. I’m a gringo. And Nicas? Well, Nicas are whole different story.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. A brutal civil war will do that. Because of that, there is a huge population of illegal Nicaraguan immigrants living in Costa Rica, Central America’s most stable nation both in terms of politics and economics.

It’s a simple equation and really mirrors the same dynamics at play between Mexico and the United States. The poorest and most desperate leave their homes and families for a place with more opportunity.

Here’s what’s different: In Costa Rica, they don’t worry about being politically correct. Even the most educated, sensitive, intelligent and thoughtful friends I had there openly made disparaging and off-color jokes and comments about Nicas. (The jokes usually had to do with the Nicas’ status as a lower class, violence and a lack of education.) It was shocking for me to hear.

One of my favorite bars, frequented by traditionally open-minded college students, sat along the campus of the country’s main university. There, a writing on the bathroom wall read: Nica muerta. Nica buena. Hagamos buenas Nicas. Translation: Dead Nicaraguan. Good Nicaraguan. Let’s make good Nicaraguans.

It was a bit scary.

But it was more open and honest than our immigration discussion here in the United States today. The situation is fundamentally the same as it is in Costa Rica. You have one strong country, one poor country. But in Costa Rica, it was made clear why they didn’t want Nicas there: They felt they were above Nicas. Therefore, they felt that Nicas degraded the quality of their country.

Here, things are dressed up in national security and economic concerns. Our political correctness has diverted the discussion in a different, less honest direction. It’s not acceptable here to be so directly hostile to someone because of where they are from. So the extremist anti-immigrant movement tries to make it about something less offending.

I imagine this same debate would be a lot different today in the United States if that layer of political correctness was peeled away.

(Read this great story in The New York Times Magazine if you truly want a better idea of the economic impacts of immigration. I can’t even begin to sum it up. Just read it.)


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