Nicaraguan Americans

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by Stefan Smagula


Bordered on the north by Honduras, on the south by Costa Rica, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean, Nicaragua is Central America's largest nation. Within its triangular borders there are 57,089 square miles (147,900 square kilometers), making Nicaragua the size of Iowa. Dividing the Caribbean lowlands from the Pacific coast is a range of volcanic mountains whose highest peak, Pico Mogoton, 6,913 feet above sea level, is near the Honduran border. The 3,000-square-mile Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America, and because it was once part of the Pacific Ocean, it is the only place in the world where freshwater sharks, swordfish, and sea horses live. The Caribbean lowlands, which extend inland from the Mosquito Coast, make up half the national territory, but most of Nicaragua's population has always been concentrated near the fertile Pacific coast.

In 1970 about two million people were living in Nicaragua. In 1995 the population could reach 4.5 million, and by 2025 the population could be over nine million, according to the United Nations Department of International Economic and Social Affairs. The population grows 3.4 percent each year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Mestizos people of mixed Spanish-indigenous ancestrymake up about 77 percent of Nicaragua's population. Another ten percent are of European descent, nine percent are of African descent, and four percent are indigenous. However, these numbers oversimplify the complex racial, cultural, and ethnic makeup of a country where, before the Spanish conquest, there lived at least nine distinct indigenous peoples.

In the mid-1990s, the main cultural-racial groups are mestizos, indígenas, English- and Garífuna-speaking Afro-Karib people, and a small Caucasian elite class. Among the groups living on the Atlantic coast that are commonly defined as indigenous are the Miskito, Sumu, and Rama. The Miskito are not exactly an indigenous group, but a mixture of indigenous peoples and all the travellers who have passed through the Mosquito Coast over the last two centuries. The Sumu and Rama are indigenous people who probably originated in South America. The Garífuna, known historically as the "Black Karibs," are the descendants of escaped African slaves and Karib Indians who intermarried on the island of St. Vincent, where they lived until the British transported them forcibly to the Caribbean coast of Central America in 1796. The Caucasian elite is formed by a small, but typically wealthy, group of people whose ancestors came from Europeusually Spain, Germany, France, and England. There are minorities of Chinese, Arabs, Cubans, Russians, and others in Nicaragua today.

Indígena, or indigenous, is a cultural and linguistic designation, not merely a racial term. The term "indigenous" refers to people who not only have ancestors who came from Central or South America but who self-consciously identify themselves with a specific indigenous group or tribe, speak the language, and practice the customs of that group. It is possible to be entirely indigenous in the racial sense and to be mestizo. Mestizos are culturally, linguistically, and often racially mixed people. The word mestizo means "mixed race" in Spanish and refers to the race of people that has resulted from hundreds of years of assimilation and intermarriage between Spanish and indigenous people.

About 88 percent of the entire country is nominally Roman Catholic. Many Nicaraguans, especially in rural areas, practice a syncretist form of religion that combines indigenous religious beliefs with Catholicism. A small but growing percentage of the country belongs to evangelical, Pentecostal, and fundamentalist Protestant churches.


Archaeologists working in El Bosque, Estelí, Nicaragua unearthed a pile of Mastodon and Megatherium bones that suggest that prehistoric people used El Bosque as a slaughter site as many as 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. The bones at El Bosque are among the oldest known evidence of a prehistoric human presence in Central America. Archaeologists and others have theorized that the ancestors of the people who lived long ago at El Bosqueand of all indigenous people in the Americasoriginally came from Asia across an ice- or land-bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Aside from archeological and geological evidence, there are also some genetic similarities between Asians and indigenous Americans that support the idea of the Asian origin of indigenous American peoples.


Many thousands of years after the first people arrived in North America between 5000 and 2000 b.c., the Mayan empire first began to develop along the Caribbean coast, and eventually its influence spread through a network of city-states that stretched from present-day southern Mexico into Honduras, just north of Nicaragua. The ancient Maya produced many intellectual and artistic accomplishments. They invented the first system of writing in the New World, developed a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, worshipped at brightly painted temples of stone, lived in large city-like centers, and sustained a rigid and highly structured society. The many Mayan temples and stone-paved roads that remain are testimony to the beauty, ingenuity, and durability of ancient Mayan architecture and engineering. But the Mayan culture that flowered so brilliantly was the same culture that waged the brutal civil wars that may have contributed to the sudden and mysterious downfall of the Mayan empire around 900 a.d. The descendants of the ancient Maya live today in Guatemala and the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico. The influence of the ancient Maya is ubiquitous throughout Central America, and many Mayan-language words are present in the everyday Spanish spoken in modern Nicaragua.

After the fall of the Maya, the Aztecs, a Nahuat-speaking group who originated in northern Mexico, came into full power. They eventually established a series of allegiances that spread from Mexico to El Salvador. The Nicarao and some of the other indigenous groups of Nicaragua may have originally fled south to Nicaragua in order to avoid subjugation by the aggressive Aztecs. These migrating groups of people brought with them the Aztec language and culture, both of which persist in various forms today in Nicaragua.


Before the Spanish conquest in the early 1520s, Nicaragua was inhabited by numerous competing indigenous groups that probably originally came from both the North and the South. Among them were the Niquiranos, the Nicarao (also known as the Nahual or Nagual), the Chorotega, the Chontales (or Mames), the Miskito, the Sumu (or Sumo), the Voto, the Suerre, and the Guetar. The invading Spaniards and the epidemics that followed the conquest all but eradicated the Nicarao, Chorotega, Chontales, Voto, Suerre, Guetar, and numerous other indigenous Nicaraguan peoples. Having been decimated by war and disease, their societies in shambles, the surviving indigenous people were often forced to learn Spanish, to convert to Catholicism, and to work under slavelike conditions for the benefit of the Spanish colonizers and missionary priests. Over the years, many of these indigenous people assimilated and intermarried into Spanish colonial society, forming the racial-cultural group called mestizo.

Although a few Nicarao persisted in Nicaragua until the mid-twentieth century, their descendants are now only vaguely aware of their ethnic identity. Unlike the Nicarao, whose culture has been subsumed by mestizo culture, some indigenous groups in Nicaragua have maintained their language, culture, and ethnic identity. Through a combination of fierce resistance to Hispanic control and isolation in the Caribbean lowlands, the Miskito, the Sumu, and the Rama have managed to survive and maintain their ethnic identity into the present.


From the time of the conquest until 1821, Spain controlled most of Nicaragua. British colonizers controlled some areas along the Caribbean coast. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain first in 1821 as part of the Mexican empire and later as part of the Central American Federation. By 1838 the Federation had collapsed, and rival conservative and liberal factions had begun violent struggles for power in Nicaragua. The rivalry was as much based on political differences as it was on localismo the provincial hatred between Grenada and Leon, the two oldest colonial cities in Nicaragua. In the mid-1800s the United States and Britain aggravated the liberal-conservative feud when the two nations competed for control over a potential transoceanic canal route that would have crossed Nicaragua via the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua.

In 1855 liberal leader General Francisco de Castellón invited a well-known Tennessee-born adventurer named William Walker to come to Nicaragua as a peaceful "colonist" with the understanding that Walker was to be the defender of the liberals. However, when Walker arrived with a gang of 58 mercenaries named the "American Phalanx of Immortals," he promptly ended the civil war and declared himself president of Nicaragua. The same day he took office, he issued four decrees: the first was an agreement to borrow money from abroad with the Nicaraguan territory as collateral; the second confiscated the property of the conservatives, for sale to U.S. citizens; the third made English the official language of the country; and the fourth reinstated slavery.

Walker next attempted to conquer the other four Central American republics, but a combined effort by the Central American armies eventually forced his retreat in May of 1857. Fortunately for Walker, there was a U.S. ship waiting to take him back to New Orleans, where he was given a hero's welcome. Completely discredited by the Walker incident, the liberals lost control to the conservatives, who established the Nicaraguan capital in Managua. The conservative government was stable but not democratic. In November of 1857, Walker led another failed invasion of Nicaragua and once again was shipped safely back to the United States. Three years later Walker made his third attempt to achieve "manifest destiny," but this time a British ship overcame him and turned him over to the Honduran government; a Honduran firing squad ended Walker's life. It was just the beginning of a long era of U.S. intervention in Nicaraguan politics.


In recent years the people of Nicaragua have suffered many disasters, both natural and man-made. Hurricanes, severe earthquakes, dictatorships, revolution, counterrevolution, famines, epidemics, civil war, volcanic eruptions, and foreign machination have all besieged Nicaragua. In 1909 the U.S. government supported a revolution that ousted liberal General Jose Santos Zelaya and instated conservative rule. In 1912 popular revolt against the conservatives led to U.S. Marine intervention, and the Marines essentially did not leave Nicaragua until 1933, after fighting a guerrilla war against General Augusto Cesar Sandino and his followers. At the request of their commander, General Anastasio Somoza, the U.S.-trained Nicaraguan National Guard killed General Sandino.

Somoza seized control of Nicaragua in 1936 and was the country's dictatorial ruler until his assassination by young poet Rigoberto Lopez in 1956. Somoza's sons, Luis Somoza Debayle and Anastasio Somoza Debayle, who both spoke English and were educated in the United States, assumed control of the country. When Luis, better known as Tachito, died a natural death in 1967, Anastasio became leader.

After a severe earthquake leveled Managua in 1972, Anastasio Somoza's detractors claimed that Somoza had embezzled many millions of dollars of earthquake-relief money. Popular dissatisfaction with the perceived widespread corruption and brutality of the Somoza regime, coupled with anger over what many believed was the Somoza-directed murder of opposition leader Pedro Joaquin Chamorro in 1978, prompted nationwide uprisings that led to civil war. The Marxist guerrillas of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) led the anti-Somoza fighting. The Sandinistas, who take their name from General Sandino, took power on July 9, 1979 and set up a broad-based coalition government. On July 17, 1979 Somoza, along with many of the top-ranking government officials, fled with their families to Miami, Florida. The coalition government soon broke up when the leadership of the Roman Catholic church, industrialists, and moderate politicians all opposed the FSLN's Marxist elements. Somoza later moved from Miami to Paraguay, where he was assassinated.


President Ronald Reagan imposed an economic embargo against Nicaragua, citing what he saw as the threat of Marxism and Communism in the "backyard" of the United States. Despite a thorough campaign of misinformation by the U.S. Department of State, which denied American support for anti-Sandinistas, the U.S. government secretly aided anti-Sandinista guerrillas, or "Contras." Exiled Nicaraguan Contra leaders who lived in Miami worked together with high-ranking officials in the Marines, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council (NSC) to supply weapons and money to the Contras at a time when Congress had passed a law banning U.S. government support for the Contras. This affair was partially brought to light in 1986 when then-Attorney General Edwin Meese discovered that much of the money for the Contras came from a secret arms-for-hostages deal between the United States and Iran. Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North and other high-ranking officials in the CIA and NSC were later convicted of crimes ranging from perjury to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Presidents Reagan and Bush denied prior knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair, as the scandal came to be called. In 1992 President Bush pardoned all of the high-ranking officials who were involved with the scandal.


FSLN leader Daniel Ortega Saavedra was elected president of Nicaragua in 1984, but much of the opposition boycotted the election. As fighting against the U.S.-funded Contras began to grow more and more severe, economic and civil rights conditions continued to deteriorate in Nicaragua, prompting many former Sandinista supporters to flee to the United States and Costa Rica.

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, wife of slain anti-Somoza leader Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was elected president in February 1990. She is a conservative who is moderately opposed to the Sandinistas. After Chamorro's election the U.S. trade embargo was lifted, and in November 1993, in response to Chamorro's pledge to place the army under non-Sandinista control, President Bill Clinton approved $40 million in aid for Nicaragua. Chamorro attempted to achieve peace by giving amnesty to both sides for crimes committed during the civil war, but later clashes between the Sandinista-controlled army and "recontras" have revived old anxieties among Nicaraguans.

Sixteen years after the Sandinista revolution, Nicaragua was still in a desperate situation. There were an estimated 1,500 recontras, former right-wing rebels, fighting for land rights. The annual per capita income in 1994 was $540, less than it was in 1960, according to the University of Central America. Some 60 percent of Nicaraguans were unemployed, and 70 percent lived in extreme poverty, according to United Nations estimates. The infant mortality rate was the highest in Central America: 81 deaths per 1,000 live births. Nicaragua had an external debt of about $14 billion and suffered from inflation. In a mid-1990s poll in Nicaragua, 50 percent of the respondents said that Nicaragua was better off under the brutal Somoza regime, and only seven percent said that the country was better off under Chamorro, according to Canadian magazine Maclean's. In 1996, a conservative, Arnoldo Aleman, defeated Ortega in the presidential election.


Little is known about the first Nicaraguans to immigrate to the United States. One early visitor was Padre Augustín Vigil, a priest from Granada, Nicaragua, who served as William Walker's ambassador to the United States. Padre Vigil lived in Washington, D.C., sometime between 1856 and 1857. The U.S. Census Bureau did not keep separate statistics for individual Central American countries until 1960. Pre-1960 census reports simply lumped Nicaraguans together with all Spanish-surnamed people. Estimates of the number of undocumented early immigrants are not available. Available statistics show a great deal of variation from decade to decade. Documented migration to the United States from Central America rose from 500 individuals entering between 1890 and 1900 to 8,000 individuals between 1900 and 1910. U.S. demand for labor increased during World War I, and 17,000 Central Americans entered the United States legally between 1910 and 1920. Due to 1920s legislation that restricted the flow of immigrants from the Western Hemisphere, the number of Central American immigrants dropped to 6,000 during the 1930s (Nora Hamilton and Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, "Central American Migration: A Framework Analysis," Latin American Research Review, Volume 26, No. 1; p. 81). In general, early migration from Nicaragua to the United States was facilitated by Nicaragua's political and economic dependency upon the United States.

Nicaragua's dependence upon the United States has fostered in the Nicaraguans a "perverse esteem" for the United States, according to Judith Thurman in an article written for the New Yorker. Esteem for the United States, whether perverse or not, is certainly one of the main factors that has attracted Nicaraguans to move North. Across Central America the United States is thought of as a país de maravillas or "country of marvels," where everyone is wealthy, or at least upwardly mobile.

Nearly 7,500 Nicaraguans immigrated legally into the United States between 1967 and 1976. In 1970, 28,620 Nicaraguans were living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over 90 percent of Nicaraguan immigrants self-reported as "white" on the 1970 census. Most Nicaraguan immigrants during the late 1960s were women: there were only 60 male Nicaraguan immigrants for every 100 female immigrants during this period (Ann Orlov and Reed Veda, "Central and South Americans," Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980]; pp. 210-217). This male-to-female ratio may be explained by the large number of Central American women who came to the United States to work as domestic servants so that they could send money home to Nicaragua. Most immigrants during this period settled in urban areas, and many went to live in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.


The 1979 revolution triggered the largest waves of Nicaraguan immigrants. Documented immigration increased two to three times after the revolution, and undocumented immigration rose dramatically. Migration to the United States occurred in three waves. The first wave took place during the time of the revolution, when the wealthy families closely associated with the Somoza regime fled to Miami. Perhaps as many as 20,000 Nicaraguans immigrated to Miami during this period. After the revolution there was a period of repatriation, when people who had left Nicaragua to avoid the conflicts returned home. The second wave occurred during the early 1980s, when the Nicaraguan government was reorganized. Many non-Sandinista members of the coalition as well as industrialists whose companies had been seized by the state left the countrysome ending up in the United States. In the mid-1980s, fighting between the Sandinistas and the U.S.-supported Contras became more severe, which caused the country's economic and civil rights conditions to worsen significantly. The real wage paid to workers, for example, declined by over 90 percent from 1981 to 1987, according Sandinista figures, and the opposition newspaper was heavily censored. This economic chaos and social repression prompted the third and largest wave of immigrants to date. Over 62 percent of the total documented immigration from 1979 to 1988 occurred after 1984 (Edward Funkhouser, "Migration from Nicaragua: Some Recent Evidence," World Development, Volume 20, No. 8, 1992; p. 1210). The immigrants in the third wave tended to be young men of all classes fleeing the involuntary military draft and poorer families seeking to escape harsh economic conditions and violence.

The three waves together brought the documented population of all Nicaraguans in the United States to 202,658, with a large percentage of that number, 168,659, having been born in Nicaragua, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. However, some sources say that in the late 1980s there were probably about 175,000 documented and undocumented Nicaraguans in Miami alone.

Between 1982 and 1992, approximately ten percent to 12 percent of the population of Nicaragua left their native country. The largest numbers of people went to Costa Rica, but hundreds of thousands went to the United States, Honduras, and Guatemala. Between 1979 and 1988, 45,964 Nicaraguans emigrated to Costa Rica legally, and another 24,000 people were classified as refugees, as reported by the Nicaraguan Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos. During almost the same period, 21,417 Nicaraguans entered the United States legally, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Statistical Yearbook. In 1988 over 44,000 people, or 1.5 percent of the population of 3.6 million, left Nicaragua, according to the Nicaraguan Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos.

When the Sandinistas tried to relocate the Miskitos away from the war zones, thousands of Miskitos fled to Honduras and Costa Rica to avoid what they felt was mistreatment by the Hispanic Sandinistas. Large numbers of Miskitos also joined the Contras in Honduras. It is not known whether Miskitos traveled in large numbers to the United States, and the same is true of the Garífuna. There is reportedly a Garífuna community living in Houston, Texas, and some of them may be Nicaraguan.


The majority of Nicaraguans have entered the United States without the knowledge of immigration authorities. Because most Nicaraguan immigrants are undocumented, and therefore deportable, collecting information about them is difficult. When the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 offered amnesty to all undocumented immigrants who could prove that they had entered the United States before 1982, 15,900 Nicaraguans applied for amnesty. This is more than double the number of Nicaraguans who entered the country legally between 1979 and 1982. According to several studies, the number of amnesty applicants suggests that there were about 200,000 Nicaraguans living in the United States during the mid-1980s (Funkhouser, p. 1210). The true number of Nicaraguan immigrants can only be estimated, but by 1995 it was probably over 250,000.


Aimed at reducing the numbers of illegal immigrants to the United States, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act had little effect on the numbers of immigrants who entered the United Statesit just drove the flow of undocumented immigrants deeper underground and made it more difficult for them to find work once in the United States. Even before the law was passed, large numbers of Nicaraguans were forced to cross the Mexican-United States border illegally with the help of coyotes, a Spanish colloquial term for the people who illegally transport immigrants into the United States. After the law was passed, and border control was stepped up, the coyotes began to charge more money.

Undocumented Nicaraguans who enter the United States typically cross Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico before they reach the United States. Coyotes, so called because they often prey upon the people they are transporting, rob, rape, enslave, and sometimes even kill the immigrants they carry. The illegal immigrants are known colloquially as mojados or wetbacks, illegals, and pollos Spanish for "chickens," the prey of coyotes. Sometimes the coyotes recruit the pollos inside of Nicaragua, even offering to take the immigrant across the border on family credit; otherwise the immigrant gets to the Mexican-United States border on her or his own and then contacts and pays the coyote. Whatever the case, the journey is always dangerous and expensive. Coyotes charge from between $400 to $1,500 per persondepending upon the distance involved and the current demandto take the pollo into the United States. The entire journey from Nicaragua to Los Angeles, for example, easily could cost $2,000 to $2,500, after paying the mordidas, or bribes to Mexican officials at control posts on Mexican highways, the coyote 's fee, food, and transportation costs. This is an enormous sum of money for most people in Nicaragua, where the average person makes about $540 dollars a year.

The border towns of Tijuana and El Paso are the crossing points favored by undocumenteds. These towns are notorious for drug cartels and prostitution rings in which many Central American immigrants, Nicaraguans among them, are forced to work. One chapter in Miami: Secretos de un exilio, a book written by a Nicaraguan who traveled in the United States, tells the tale of one woman and her four children who narrowly escaped tragedy when they tried to cross at El Paso. The family flew into Mexico City and then traveled to a border town where she claimed the Mexican police robbed her of all the money she had, $970, and even took the clothes of her small children. Penniless, friendless, and homeless, the woman had almost given up hope when a family member living in Miami was able to help her and her children to reach Miami, where she filed a claim for political asylum. The INS allowed her to remain in the United States until her claim could be heard by the courta process that could take years.

Not every woman who attempts to cross the border illegally has family in the United States and not every woman makes it across the border. Some must struggle to survive waiting on tables at bars or working as prostitutes in the rough bordertowns like Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros, and Nuevo Laredo, hoping to someday save enough to cross into el norte, or "the north," as the United States is known. The number of Central American women who are raped in transit to the United States is unknown because most women are too ashamed to tell even family or friends about the crime, but many estimate that rape, along with robbery, is common. On the U.S. side of the border, undocumented immigrants cannot report assault, rape, or exploitation in the cantinas, manual-labor jobs, or the sweatshops that employ them for fear of being deported by the migra, as the INS is known in California, Texas, and Florida.


Miami, the capital of the exile, is the center of Nicaraguan American life. The ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza was the first of about 175,000 Nicaraguans who overwhelmed Miami in the 1980s. A small city called Sweetwater, about 16 miles from Miami, has been dubbed "Little Managua" by the locals because of the large number of Nicaraguans who settled there. Nicaraguans have also created communities in other large urban centers where Hispanics live, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Smaller numbers of Nicaraguans live in large cities in Texas. All these cities have significant Spanish-speaking populations, and it is possible to work and live in areas where Spanish is spoken. This facilitates networking and the sense of community among the recent immigrants, many of whom speak little English. In 1990, soon after Chamorro was elected, a caravan of cars and buses left Miami headed for Nicaragua, according to several newspaper reports. But only a small portion of the total number of Nicaraguan Americans were repatriated.


Many Americans wished that more Nicaraguans would return to Nicaragua. In 1994, tensions between the haves and have-nots, and between the "legals," and the "illegals," led to the passage of Proposition 187 in California, which would prohibit undocumented immigrants from benefitting from publicly funded services like nonemergency health care and education. Similar legislation banning undocumented immigrant children from public schools was passed in Texas but was eventually overthrown by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1999 several lawsuits against the enforcement of the law were settled by the state's new governor greatly weakening the law.

The recent animosity toward immigrants in California is in contrast to the welcome that Nicaraguan immigrants received in the early days of the first wave after the revolution. President Reagan painted the Nicaraguan revolution in stark cold-war tones: the Sandinistas were Marxists and Communists who were going to destabilize the Central American isthmus through their close alignment with Communist Cuba and the Soviet Union. According to this cold-war scenario, Nicaraguan immigrants were refugees and exiles who had escaped the Communist regime, and therefore deserved political asylum and assistance. Even though the political affiliation of the parent country is not supposed to enter into questions of asylum Nicaraguan applicants were granted political asylum about 50 percent of the time in 1987. Salvadorans fleeing similar conditions received asylum only three percent of the time in 1987.

During the mid- to late 1980s, in an attempt to make up for what they saw as wrong-headed American immigration laws and foreign policy in Central America, some Americans banded together to support Central Americans and Central American refugees. Over 80 municipal governments created U.S.-Nicaraguan sister city agreements. The U.S. cities sent medical supplies, food, and farming materials to their counterpart cities in Nicaragua. Some churches created what were called "sanctuaries" for undocumented immigrants. The churches offered support and shelter to Central American immigrants. During this period Central American refugee centers appeared in nearly every large urban center in America.

Key issues facing Nicaraguans staying permanently in the United States are questions of identity. They wonder, for example, whether they are considered refugees or immigrants, or whether they are merely living in exile. CARACEN, one of the leading Central American assistance groups, reflected this shift in identity when it recently changed its name from Central American Refugee Center to Central American Resource Center. Another key issue is the return of millions of dollars' worth of property seized by the Sandinistas under a law that gave the government the right to seize property if the owner was absent from Nicaragua for more than 60 days. Many of the former owners of the seized property are now citizens of the United States and are attempting to regain title through U.S. law.


The most common myth pertaining to Nicaraguan Americans is that they are all former Somocistas, as the followers of Somoza are called. This is untrue. Despite significant cultural differences among Hispanics, Nicaraguans are often perceived to be no different from other Hispanics and are thus subject to the same prejudices and stereotypes as other Hispanics. Some common stereotypes are that Hispanics are docile, ignorant, and easily led. On the West Coast and in the Southwest, Mexican Americans and Central Americans have been called "greasers," "beans," "beaners," and "spics" by people of other ethnic groups. According to one stereotype, Hispanics stay within their own group and always protect their own people. A phrase common in the schools and streets of California expresses this stereotype: "If you crush one bean, the whole burrito comes after you."

Undocumented Hispanic immigrants are also portrayed as ignorant workers who enjoy being exploited. In an article about the Southwest's dependence on undocumented workers published by the Wall Street Journal in 1985, the author wrote: "But Mexican nationals ... happily dangle in branches and power lines for the minimum wage" (Wall Street Journal, May 7, 1985; p. 10). Common among leftist American writers in the 1980s was the stereotype of the happy, friendly Nicaraguan: "But most of all I like the peopletheir friendliness, their openness, their courage" (Rita Golden Gelman, Inside Nicaragua: Young People's Dreams and Fears [New York: Franklin Watts, 1988], p. 128).

Acculturation and Assimilation

For Nicaraguan Americans, the central plazas of Nicaraguan towns may have been replaced by shopping centers and malls, but traditions do not change as easily as one's locale. Having only recently arrived in the United States, most Nicaraguan Americans have maintained their traditions and beliefs. Because the Nicaraguan American community in San Francisco, for instance, is relatively diffuse, Nicaraguan Americans there are assimilating into a pan-Latino culture more rapidly than they are assimilating into non-Latino culture.


Some of the Nicaraguan people's beliefs and traditions date back to pre-Colombian times, and others appeared during colonial times. Most are a mixture of both pre- and post-Colombian culture. La Llorona is the name of a legendary woman-spirit who walks along streets and paths on dark nights sighing and sobbing over the children she lost during the time of the Spanish conquest. One version of the legend has it that her children were killed by an earthquake; another says that the children's Spanish father stole them away from her. This may be related to the Mexican legend of La Malinche, the lover and assistant of conquistador Cortés.

There are many folk beliefs in Nicaraguan culture. One belief says that if a person who has walked in the sun for many hours looks at a child with sun-irritated eyes, that child will be "infected with the sun" and will suffer from fever and diarrhea. The treatment is difficult unless the person who has infected the child is known. If the person is known, the treatment is simple: wrap the child in a sweaty shirt that has been worn by the person who originally infected him or her, and hours later the child will be healthy.


Until recently, La Purísima was a holiday celebrated only in Nicaragua. Now it is also celebrated in Los Angeles, Miami, and other Nicaraguan American communities. The holiday takes place from the last days in November until the night of the seventh of December, which is called the Noche de Gritería, or "Night of the Shouting." All through the week women make all sorts of intricate traditional sweets and drinks that are exchanged during the last night. The centerpiece of the holiday is a small statue of the Virgin Mary covered with decorations of flowers, fruits, lights, and candles. Each night the family prays together in front of the statue. Then on the last night, neighbors, friends, and families go traveling from house to house in a secular-religious celebration that takes its name from the shouts raised in honor of the Virgin Mary: "Long live the Conception of Mary!" and "Who causes so much joy? The Conception of Maria!" are heard in the streets. Groups of people also sing traditional religious songs in front of the statue of the Virgin. Typically, the gritería culminates at midnight with the explosions of bombs and the reports of thousands of pistols shot into the air.


In Nicaragua, Semana Santa, or Holy Week, a major summer holiday, is a time for relaxing at the beach or vacationing. This holiday may still be celebrated by Nicaraguan Americans. On Easter Sunday villagers all over Nicaragua gather beneath bowers made of palm leaves decorated with fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Accompanied by a brass band, the villagers walk slowly around the town. At the head of the parade are people dressed as symbolic characters: Hebrew elders and Apostles. The Apostles carry a life-size statue of Christ. The procession usually ends up in a public square in front of the town's church, where there is food for sale and carnival-like concessions.


The observation of a velorio, or funeral party, after a person's death is an old tradition with Hispanic origins. During the velorio the family and friends of the deceased gather to share their grief. The relatives and close friends sit in the same room as the deceased and maintain a silent prayer vigil throughout the night until morning. Others at the velorio talk in small groups to distract themselves from fatigue, tell picaresque stories, drink liquor, eat large amounts of food, and even gamble. Sometimes, after hours of drinking, the velorio ends in a raucous, drunken fight. Following the velorio, the body is taken to the cemetery in a funeral procession with a brass band. The mourners follow the casket on foot to the cemetery.

The velorios de los santos, or velorios of the saints are similar affairs in which small candles are lit on altars, festive decorations are hung, and prayers are made, accompanied by music and sometimes drunkenness. The most famous funeral procession of a saint is the procession of Managua's Saint Domingo. In this noisy and colorful parade, a tiny statue of the saint is carried to "sanctuary" in the hills of Managua. Marimbas, dancers, fireworks, and a carnival atmosphere mark the event.


The national sport of Nicaragua is baseball. The first organized baseball game in Nicaragua took place in 1892. For more than two decades in the early part of the twentieth century, U.S. Marines were stationed in Nicaragua. One result of the U.S. Marine occupation is Nicaragua's widespread fascination with baseball. In Nicaragua, the word for baseball is béisbol ("bays-bole"). Men and boys in small towns play baseball with whatever equipment they can mustersometimes they use tough Nicaraguan grapefruits (for which the Nicaraguan word is grapefruit ), or even an old sock rolled up around a rock, instead of a ball. There is also a professional league. At least five Nicaraguans who may have started by playing with rolled up socks later played for the major leagues in the United States. Cock fighting, a sport in which two trained cocks fight each other, is also popular among Nicaraguans. Men gather around the fighting birds to cheer their favorites and to make bets on the animals, who fight sometimes to their death.


Seemingly innocuous, the following Nicaraguan proverbs and sayings reveal quite a bit about Nicaragua and Nicaraguans: Con eme-omo-de-odo, se consigue todo With manners, everything can be obtained; Cada uno tiene su modo de matar pulgas Everyone has her or his manner of killing fleas; De todos modos, moros son todos At any rate, moros are everyone (A "moro " is the color white with

"T he Nicaraguan's worst fear is not the fear of losing a job, but the fear of getting sick."

A Nicaraguan American pediatrician in Miami (from Guillermo Corés Domínguez, Miami: secretos de un exilio. Managua: El Amanecer, 1986).

dark brown grease stains and may refer in a negative way to mestizos. ); El último mono se ahoga The last monkey drowns (Figuratively, the last in line will not receive her or his portion of food.); No creer en santos que orinan Don't believe in saints that urinate; Voltearse la tortilla The tortilla is flipped (refers to the way that tortillas are cooked. This is said when one party has fallen and another is ruling.); Tamal con queso, comida de preso Tamale with cheese, food of the prisoner (tamales are made of meat cornmeal wrapped in cornhusks or banana leaves).


The importance of corn to traditional Nicaraguan cuisine, religion, and folklore cannot be overstated. To a large extent, the traditional cuisine of Nicaragua consists of varied and imaginative ways of preparing corn, or maíz. Nearly every part of the plant is usedfrom the fungus that grows on the corn to the husk that covers the coband nearly every type of dish and beverage is made of corn. Breakfast cereals, breads, drinks that taste a bit like coffee, puddings, desserts, porridges, and even beer are made from corn. Beans are also important. Unlike most of Central America, which prefers black beans, Nicaraguans tend to eat red beans. While everyday cuisine is based upon abundant corn and beans, the criollo ("cree-o-yo"), or Creole, cuisine is based more on meats and sauces that are Nicaraguan adaptations of Spanish and European dishes. The scarcity and high cost of meats in Nicaragua has put meats normally out of reach of everyone but the upper classes. In the United States, where meat is more abundant, Nicaraguans probably eat more meat dishes.

The small, round, unleavened tortilla ("tortiya"), made of ground and processed corn, is the daily staple of Nicaraguans. The tortilla is bread, spoon, and plate for Central Americans. Traditionally made at home by hand, tortillas are made by machines in the United States and sold in super-markets all over California, the Southwest, and in southern Florida.

The tamal ("tahmahl") is a bit of corn dough with seasoned meat, sweet chocolate or vegetables, wrapped inside of a corn husk or a banana leaf before it is steamed or boiled. The national tamal is called nacatamal ("naca-tahmahl") and consists of pork, chicken, or turkey, various vegetables, mint, and hot peppers, all combined with a corn dough made with sour orange juice. A small amount of this mixture is put inside of an individual corn husk or banana leaf and then folded or rolled and sealed before cooking. Restaurants in Miami have signs in their windows that say: "Nacatamales and other Nicaraguan Foods." According to Angélica Vivas, author of Cocina Nica, "The silent nacatamal says more about the history of Nicaragua than all the pages of don José Dolores Gámez" (Angélica Vivas, Cocina Nica [Managua: Ministerio de Cultura], p. 17). Gámez was a chronicler of Nicaraguan colonial history.

Red bean soup is the most typical soup of Nicaragua. It is made from red beans boiled with garlic, onion, pork, and sweet red pepper. The soup is poured into a bowl, and then an egg is cracked into the hot soup. The heat of the soup partially cooks the egg.

Desserts called almibares ("almeebarays") consist of honey- and syrup-coated fruits such as mango, mamey, jocote, papaya, and marañon. Almibares are eaten all over the country during Semana Santa. Many corn-based desserts also exist. For example, motlatl atol ("moetlahtel ahtol") is a yellow pudding-like dessert made from corn, milk, sugar and a fruit, which is also eaten during Semana Santa. Chocolate, which is native to Central America, is used not only in sweet drinks and desserts but as a flavoring for meat dishes.


Because so many are undocumented immigrants, and so many work in clandestine jobs for low wages, many poorer Nicaraguan Americans have no health insurance. Those who have health insurance are either professionals who are covered through their employers or are successfully self-employed.

Nicaraguan-educated doctors came to the United States only to find out that without a U.S. medical degree, all those years of study and training were worth almost nothing. Those who had studied in the United States were more fortunate and could more easily transfer their experience to a job in the United States. Frustrated by their situation, some Nicaraguan-educated doctors in Miami founded clandestine clinics to serve the uninsured Nicaraguan American population. These clinics do not appear in telephone books and do not advertise. During the time of the Contra war, some of the medical supplies that were headed for the fighting in Honduras ended up in some of these clandestine clinics, according to a Nicaraguan journalist. Other Nicaraguan-educated doctors found illegal work in clinics that agreed to let them work at wages far below normal.

Nicaraguans, like all people native to the Americas and the Pacific Basin, are genetically prone to develop a small birthmark called a Mongoloid spot. The spot is a small, oval bluish mark found at the base of the spine on babies. Eventually this spot disappears, leaving no trace. In some cases a similar pigmentation, called Nevus of Ota, can appear on the cheeks or on the sclera of the eyes. Nevus of Ota is disfiguring, but usually not debilitating.

According to a study conducted in Los Angeles and published in 1992, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among Nicaraguan immigrant children who have witnessed or experienced violence. Fifteen of the 31 Central American children studied had witnessed violence. Of the children who both witnessed violence and lost contact with a caregiver, 100 percent suffered from some form of PTSD. The combined stress of living in guerrilla war conditions, forced emigration and impoverished living conditions in the United States cause many Nicaraguan refugee children to suffer from the symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares, nervousness, insomnia, loss of appetite, and tearfulness.

The indigenous medicine of Nicaragua is one part magical and one part rational. For every illness there is a specific therapy, usually of vegetal origin. Many potent botanical medicines are part of the traditional medicinesome of them, like the leaves of the coca plant, which are the source of cocaine, have been recognized as potent pharmaceuticals by Western science and medicine. The various leaves, roots, berries, etc. are usually made into a tea that the ill person drinks or a poultice that is applied to the body. Certain foods, like atol made from corn, are also believed to have specific curative properties.

La Hechicería, or the belief that some people have supernatural powers, is common among Nicaraguans and stems from indigenous beliefs. Those who practice hechicería are known as brujos ("brew-hose") or brujas ("brew-has"). Brujos are believed to have the power to transform themselves into animals, like tigers and dogs, and they are also believed to have the power to heal others.


Spanish is the language spoken by most Nicaraguans, but several indigenous groups speak their own languages, sometimes in addition to Spanish or English. The Miskito, Sumu, and Rama on the Atlantic coast all speak related, but distinct, languages. Many Garífuna also speak an Afro-Karib language of their own, sometimes in addition to Spanish and English. It is not known how many Garífuna or indigenous people have immigrated to the United States.

Nicaraguan Spanish has several distinguishing characteristics. The Nicaraguan accent dates back to the sixteenth century in Andalusia, and the relative isolation of Nicaragua meant that the accent did not change in the same ways that the Andalusian accent has. For example Nicaraguans have a tendency to replace the "s" sound with an "h" sound when speaking. Nicaraguans also tend to use grammatical constructions that are now rare in most other Spanish-speaking countries. For example: ¡Y quien sos vos !And who are you! uses "vos, " an antiquated form of "you." Some linguists have noted that onomatopoeic words are common in Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan Spanish also has many indigenous influences. Until the nineteenth century a hybrid form of Nahuat-Spanish was the common language of Nicaragua. Today Nahuat, Mangue, and Maya words and syntax can be found in everyday speech. As the words for two tropical fruits, mamey and papaya, testify, Nicaraguan Spanish has some Caribbean influences. Béisbol and daime ("dime") attest to Nicaragua's long association with the United States. However, the greatest number of Nicaraguanisms come from Aztec and Nahuat languages. An example of a Spanish-Aztec hybrid word is chibola, the Nicaraguan word for bottled soda. It is formed from two words: Chi, meaning small in Aztec, and bola, meaning ball in Spanish. Nicaraguan Americans and other Spanish-speaking newcomers in cities like Miami soon learn to speak "Spanglish"a combination of Spanish and English. For example: "Have a nice day, Señor. " This type of language usage is so common that it can be heard on Spanish-language radio shows and television.

The most novel contribution Nicaragua has made to the Spanish language is the word jodido ("ho-dee-doe") and its many variants. Jodido stems from the most vulgar and indecent of all verbs in Latin American use that describe the act of sexual intercourse. Strangely enough, jodido has been used so commonly in Nicaragua by all classes of people that the word has lost much of its original obscenity and now means something like "bothered" or "screwed."


Buenos días (Spanish), Pain lalahurám (Miskito), and Buiti binafi (Garífuna) mean "Good day." ¿Qué tal, amiga? (Spanish), Naksá? (Miskito), and Numá ¿Ida biñá gia (Garífuna) are translated as "How's it going, friend?" Bendiga, mami (Spanish) and Busó da (Miskito) mean "Bless you, mother." ¿Como te llamas? (Spanish) and ¿Ka gia biri? (Garífuna) mean "What's your name?" Adios (Spanish), Asabé (Miskito), and Ayó (Garífuna) all mean "Good-bye."

Family and Community Dynamics

Partly because of tradition, and partly because of the Catholic prohibition against birth control and abortion, Nicaraguan American families tend to be larger than is typical in the United States. The tradition of larger families may have its origin in Nicaragua's agricultural economy, where more children meant more help to plant and harvest. In the 1960s and early 1970s, few families immigrated togethertwo-thirds of all Nicaraguan Americans were women. As the reasons for immigration changed over the years, single women gave way to more families and widowed women with children. Sometimes families spanning three generations immigrated together. When immigrants are fleeing from violence and economic problems, as Nicaraguans were in the 1980s, they want to take as many loved ones with them as they can. When the goal is to make money to send home, as it was in the late 1960s, immigrants tend to migrate alone. No records of the number of Nicaraguan American families who receive public assistance exist, but the number is probably fairly small, because many Nicaraguans are undocumented and are not eligible for any public assistance.


In a 1989 San Francisco study of birth records, out of 192 Nicaraguan-born mothers living in San Francisco, 12.5 percent had children with men born in the United States; 56 percent had children with men born in Nicaragua. Nicaraguan-born women were much more likely (28.1 percent) to have children with Mexican- or other Latin American-born men than they were with U.S.-born men. The same study showed that the degree of intermixing between Nicaraguan Americans and other groups is higher than the degree of intermixing between Mexican Americans and other groups. This implies that Nicaraguan Americans, in San Francisco at least, are less likely than Mexican Americans to retain a distinct nationality-based identity (Steven P. Wallace, "The New Urban Latinos, Central Americans in a Mexican Immigrant Environment," Urban Affairs Quarterly, Volume 25, No. 2, December 1989; pp. 252-255).

Divisions are deep among Nicaraguan American families and communities. The Sandinista revolution split sister from brother, mother from daughter, and friend from friend. Attitudes for or against the Sandinistas undermined efforts to create cohesive communities in cities like Los Angeles, where Casa Nicaragua, a Nicaraguan American social and political organization, was burned down in 1982, supposedly by Somocistas. However, as Nicaraguan Americans have become more assimilated, the political differences that have divided the community are dissipating. Relatives of the deposed dictator Somoza own a chain of Nicaraguan restaurants in Miami, and these restaurants have become gathering places for a diverse group of Nicaraguans. Speaking of the restaurant, one Nicaraguan American man said: "The Somozas own it and nobody cares. Everybody goes thereSomocistas, Sandinistas, Cubans, Americans. Because in Miami, the war is over. Our children are not even Nicaraguans" (Marc Fisher, "Home, Sweetwater, Home," Mother Jones, Volume 13, No. 10, December 1988; p. 40).


Many Nicaraguan families venture to the United States in order to improve their own or their children's education. It has been common for the wealthier families in Nicaragua to send their children to boarding schools and universities in the United States and Europe. There is no information on typical courses of study among Nicaraguan Americans.


Tension exists in Miami between Nicaraguan Americans and African Americans. African American resentment over what they saw as preferential treatment being given to the newly arrived Nicaraguans led, in part, to African American riots in Miami in 1989. African Americans perceived that the Cuban Americans, who have most of the political control in Miami, were looking after Nicaraguan American interests at the cost of African American interests.


Nicaraguan Americans are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, and Nicaragua's Catholicism is very much centered around the Virgin Mary. There are small numbers of evangelical, Pentecostal, and fundamentalist Protestants. Most, if not all, of Nicaragua's 60 or 70 Jewish families left the country during and after the Sandinista revolution. They cited anti-Semitic harassment by FSLN soldiers as the main reason for leaving. One Managuan synagogue was firebombed, reportedly by people who identified themselves as members of the FSLN. Some of these Nicaraguan Jewish families came to live in the United States. Changes in worshipping practices since Nicaraguans have begun arriving in the United States are not documented.

Employment and Economic Traditions

As undocumented immigrants, most Nicaraguan Americans work in clandestine jobs with neither social security nor unemployment benefits. Over the years diverse groups of Nicaraguans have immigrated to the United Statessome were doctors or bankers with university educations, and some were 15-year-old boys fleeing the draft. As a group, though, they all have one thing in common: the majority of them are undocumented. Regardless of degrees, experience, and prior social standing, the undocumented Nicaraguan American must take whatever job is available, and usually these jobs are unskilled manual or service-related jobs that, because they are clandestine, sometimes pay below the federally mandated minimum wage.

The Nicaraguans who left Nicaragua between 1979 and 1988 tended to be of working age and were more likely to have been employed in a white-collar occupation before leaving Nicaragua, according to a statistical study published in 1992. They also tended to be from wealthier, larger, better educated families compared to nonmigrating Nicaraguans: 64.2 percent of the immigrants had a secondary education, compared to 43.3 percent of all families surveyed in Managua. About 14 percent of the migrants had a university education, according to the same study (Funkhouser, p. 1211).

Nicaraguan Americans typically find work by word of mouth through family or friends who have established themselves in the community, and they tend to work in specific niches that are related to these unofficial word-of-mouth networks. In San Francisco between 1984 and 1985, for example, it was common for Nicaraguan American men to work as janitors. Nearly nineteen percent of Nicaraguan men worked as building cleaners, according to one San Francisco study that tallied the occupations of Nicaraguan-born men who listed their occupations on their children's birth certificates. Another 21.6 percent of Nicaraguan-born men worked in operations and fabrications, 10.8 percent worked at production and repair, and 1.1 percent worked as farmers, bringing the total percentage of Nicaraguan Americans who worked at blue-collar jobs to 33.5 percent. Nicaraguan Americans were also much less likely to work as food-service laborers than were other Central Americans. Only 6.5 percent of the Nicaraguan Americans worked in food service, compared to 34.5 percent of Guatemalan Americans. Nicaraguan Americans were much more likely to work in white-collar jobs: 36.3 percent held administrative or other white-collar positions, compared to 6.9 percent of the Guatemalan Americans. This discrepancy may be the result of differences in education between Nicaraguans and Guatemalans. Similar information about Nicaraguan American women in the workplace is not available, though many sources say that Central American women commonly work in textiles and housecleaning.

Each year, Nicaraguan Americans send millions of dollars home to their families in Nicaragua. Thirty-six percent of Managuan households with relatives abroad received an average of $79 each month, according to a Sandinista government source. In 1988, Nicaraguan Americans sent somewhere between $50 million and $80 million to Nicaragua, making this nearly the second largest source of foreign exchange in Nicaragua. Coffee exports bring in the most money: $84 million in 1988. The amount of money sent home to Nicaragua has probably increased since 1988.

Politics and Government

Shortly after the revolution, Nicaraguan exiles living in America who were politically opposed to the Sandinistas organized an anti-Sandinista guerrilla army that had its base in Miami and Honduras. Many of the guerrillas and guerrilla leaders were former National Guardsmen or closely associated with the Somoza regime. The Somoza regime's long affiliation with the U.S. government meant that some Nicaraguan exiles already had well-placed U.S. government contacts and friends before they arrived in the United States. U.S.-government support of the Contras grew out of some of these relationships. Secret CIA involvement in the Contras' affairs dates back to at least 1981, according to Edgar Chamorro, former leader of the Contras, in his 1987 book Packaging the Contras. In a Senate subcommittee hearing in 1988, Octaviano Cesar, a Contra leader, admitted that the Contras had smuggled drugs into the United States for a profit, but he blamed it on the U.S. Congress, which cut off aid to the Contras in 1984. Notes taken by Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North suggest that North knew about the drug running and that the profits may have been as high as $14 million.

In 1987, about 2,000 Nicaraguan Americans protested publicly against the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which they said prevented the majority of Nicaraguans from remaining in the United States. About two months later, Attorney General Edwin Meese signed an order that permitted Nicaraguans to stay in the United States "for the present." Two years later, in 1989, the INS changed its regulations in order to streamline its operations. The result was that fewer Nicaraguan refugees received working permits. Nicaraguans who applied for political asylum in the 1980s received preferential treatment. Up to 80 percent of the Nicaraguan asylum applicants were granted asylum in certain years. Only a few nationalities, like Poles and Armenians, received asylum at such a high rate.

Individual and Group Contributions

What follows is an eclectic listing of individuals who have contributed in various ways to American culture and society.


Author of "El mito de paraiso perdido en la literature nicaragüense en los Estados Unidos" ("The Myth of Paradise Lost in Nicaraguan Literature in the United States"), published in El Pez y la Serpiente in 1989, Nicasio Urbina is a writer and an assistant professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at Tulane University in Louisiana. Born in 1958 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to parents of Nicaraguan ancestry, Urbina was educated at Florida International University and at Georgetown University. He has been a member of the Modern Language Association since 1984 and has received numerous scholarships and fellowships throughout his academic career.

Eddy O. Rios Olivares was born in Nicaragua in 1942 and educated in Minnesota and Puerto Rico. He has conducted microbiological research in Nicaragua and at the Universidad Central Del Caribe in Puerto Rico, where he is professor and chairman of the department of microbiology. He has received various grants and research awards for his antitumor research.


Guillermo Ortega Chamorro (Gil Ortegacham), an actor and musician who lives in Brooklyn, New York, was born in 1909 in San Jorge, Rivas, Nicaragua. Chamorro performed in The Blood Wedding on off-off-Broadway in 1987 and 1988. Educated in Nicaragua and at New York University, Chamorro has made many contributions to New York City radio and drama.


Born in Managua in 1940, Norma F. Wilson is an obstetrical/gynecological nurse practitioner who lives in Kansas City. Wilson belongs to many professional associations and organizations relating to public health, family planning, and minority health. The Seward County Republican Women named her one of the women of the year in 1988.

Born in Managua in 1937, Rolando Emilio Lacayo is a physician and surgeon who specializes in gynecology, infertility, and obstetrics. Lacayo was educated in Nicaragua, the United States, and Mexico. From 1970 to 1971 he was an instructor in gynecology and obstetrics at Baylor College in Houston, Texas. He is a member of the American Medical Association, and a junior fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.


Pancho Aguila was born Roberto Ignacio Zelaya in 1945 in Managua. Aguila immigrated to the United States in 1947 and wrote and read in coffeehouses in San Francisco during the late 1960s until he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 1969. He escaped from prison in 1972 and was reapprehended five months later. While in prison, he has written five books of poetry and has contributed to several periodicals.

Horacio Aguirre is the publisher and editor of Diario las Américas, the leading conservative Spanish-language newspaper in Miami. In 1970 he was named man of the year by Revista Conservadora del Pensamiento Centroamericano. Horacio's brother, Francisco Aguirre, has been called the godfather of the Contras. Francisco is a former National Guard colonel and has lived in exile in Washington, D.C., since 1947. He is well known in CIA and U.S. Department of State circles.


President of the Nicaraguan American Banker's and Businessman's Association, educated at Notre Dame, and a commercial banker in Miami, Roberto Arguello is one of the most visible Nicaraguan Americans. In 1990 Arguello took time off from banking to lobby in Washington on behalf the Nicaraguan government. In the late 1980s, he was a vocal opponent of the U.S. refugee policy for Nicaraguans.

Nadia Pallais is a resident of Miami and in 1988 was the Dade County government's spokes-woman for the Hispanic media. Pallais immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua in 1979. She is the mother of four daughters.


Born in 1943 in Mexico to a Nicaraguan father and a Mexican mother, Carmela Gloria Lacayo has worked for many years to improve the lives of the poor and elderly. Lacayo established the National Association for Hispanic Elderly and founded Hispanas Organized for Political Equality. She has been appointed to a number of political positions, including vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, member of the Census Bureau on Minority Populations, and an advisor on Social Security reform.


Nicaraguan American pitcher Dennis Martinez is a native of Grenada, Nicaragua. In 1976 Martinez became the first Nicaraguan ever to play in major league baseball. In 1990 he signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Expos that paid him more than $3 million per season. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Martinez said that when he broke into the big leagues and told people that he was from Nicaragua, they didn't know where it was. In 1991 he pitched a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has narrowly missed winning the Cy Young award several times. During his off-seasons in Miami, Martinez has put his celebrity among baseball-loving Nicaraguan Americans to good use by participating in drug-prevention programs for young Nicaraguan Americans in Miami. He retired following the 1998 season.



Diario las Américas.

Leading conservative Spanish-language paper in Miami; printed in Spanish.

Contact: Horacio Aguirre, Editor.

Address: 2900 Northwest 39th Street, Miami, Florida 33142-5149.

Telephone: (305) 633-3341.

Fax: (305) 635-7668.

La Estrella de Nicaragua.

Newspaper published in Spanish by and for Nicaraguan Americans in Miami, Florida.

Telephone: (305) 386-6491.

Nicaragua Monitor.

Analyzes political and economic situations in Nicaragua, as well as U.S. government policies toward the country. Seeks to inform U.S. activists who support the gains of the Sandinista Revolution. Recurring features include news of research, book reviews, and a column titled "Month In Review."

Contact: Katherine Hoyt, Editor.

Address: Nicaragua Network Education Fund, 1247 E Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003.

Telephone: (202) 544-9355.

E-mail: [email protected].

Nicaraguan Perspectives.

Quarterly political science journal of Nicaragua Information Center.

Address: Box 1004, Berkeley, California 94701-1004.

Voz Summary.

Summary of Nicaraguan news from shortwave radio.

Address: Box 8151, Kansas City, Missouri 64112.

Telephone: (816) 561-0125.

Organizations and Associations

American Nicaraguan Foundation.

Provides health care to Nicaraguan people.

Address: 848 Brickell Avenue, Miami, Florida 33131.

Telephone: (305) 375-9248.

Nicaragua Center for Community Action (NICCA).

Publishes quarterly journal with news and analysis about Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan solidarity movement.

Address: 2140 Shattuck Avenue, Box 2063, Berkeley, California 94704.

Telephone: (510) 704-5242.

Fax: (510) 654-8635.

E-mail: [email protected].

Nicaraguan American Women Civic Association.

Contact: Mauritza Herrera.

Address: 961 Northwest Second Street, Miami, Florida 33128.

Telephone: (305) 326-7700.

Nicaraguan Interfaith Committee for Action (NICA).

NICA is concerned with the problems of Nicaragua and with taking action to alleviate them; the organization also sponsors Nicaraguans in the United States.

Contact: Janine Chayoga, Director.

Address: 833 Market Street, Room 812, San Francisco, California 94103.

Telephone: (415) 495-6057.

Nicaragua Network Education Fund (NN).

Network of organizations and individuals united in opposition to U.S. intervention in the Central American/Caribbean region and in support of the Nicaraguan revolution. Seeks to create a peaceful and friendly relationship between the United States and Nicaragua through public education.

Contact: Chuck Kaufman, Co-coordinator.

Address: 1247 E Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003.

Telephone: (202) 544-9355.

Fax: (202) 544-9359.

Museums and Research Centers

Dallas Museum of Art.

The museum displays an extensive collection of pre-Columbian and eighteenth- to twentieth-century textiles, censers, and other art objects from the Nicaraguan area.

Contact: Karen Zelanka, Associate Registrar, Permanent Collection.

Address: 1717 Harwood, Dallas, Texas 75201.

Telephone: (214) 922-1200.

Fax: (214) 954-0174.


Documentation Exchange.

Formerly known as the Central America Resource Center, the Documentation Exchange maintains a library of information on human rights and social conditions in many countries, including Nicaragua. Also produces biweekly compilations of current news articles on Central America called NewsPaks.

Contact: Charlotte McCann, Editor.

Address: 2520 Longview Street, #408, Austin, Texas 78768.

Telephone: (512) 476-9841.

Fax: (512) 476-0130.

The Nattie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Located at the University of Texas at Austin, this renowned collection consists of Nicaraguan books, books about Nicaragua, and resources relating to Nicaraguan Americans. Excellent electronic information resources.

Contact: Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, Head Librarian.

Address: Sid Richardson Hall 1.109, General Libraries, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78713-7330.

Telephone: (512) 471-3818.

Nicaraguan Information Center.

Maintains a library of 100 volumes, videotapes, slides, magazines, newspapers and microfilms on Nicaragua.

Contact: Amanda Velazquez, President.

Address: P.O. Box 607, St. Charles, Missouri 63301.

Telephone: (314) 946-8721.

The UT-LANIC Server.

Managed by the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. The UTLANIC Server is accessible on the Internet. It provides access to academic databases and information services worldwide, as well as information from and about Latin America. To reach UT-LANIC Server via World Wide Web browser:; via Gopher client:

Contact: Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, Head Librarian.

Address: Sid Richardson Hall 1.109, General Libraries, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78713-7330.

Telephone: (512) 495-4520.

Sources for Additional Study

Boyer, Edward J. "Nicaraguans in L.A.: A Lively Political Debating Society," Los Angeles Times, February 20, 1984; pp. 1, 3.

Chamorro, Edgar. Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation. New York: Institute for Media Analysis, 1987.

Chavez, Leo Ralph. "Outside the Imagined Community: Undocumented Settlers and Experiences of Incorporation," American Ethnologist, May 1991; pp. 257-278.

Cortés Domínguez, Guillermo. Miami: secretos de un exilio. Managua: El Amanecer, 1986.

Crawley, Eduardo. Nicaragua in Perspective. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979.

Fins, Antonio. "For Exiled Nicaraguans, Just Where Is Home?" Business Week, March 26, 1990; pp. 28D-28K.

Fisher, Marc. "Home, Sweetwater, Home," Mother Jones, 13, No. 10, December 1988; pp. 35-40.

Funkhouser, Edward. "Migration from Nicaragua: Some Recent Evidence," World Development, 20, No. 8, 1992; pp. 1209-18.

Gelman, Rita Golden. Inside Nicaragua, Young People's Dreams and Fears. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988.

Hamill, Pete. "Any Happy Returns?" Esquire, July 1990; pp. 33-34.

Hart, Dianne Walta. Undocumented in L.A.: An Immigrant's Story. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1997.

Malone, Michael R. A Nicaraguan Family. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co., 1998.

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