Bottom: A Hindu procession in Panama
Images thanks to The Visitor/El Visitante Newspaper
At best, I had sketchy information so far, and I could not wait to get to a library to see what the local newspapers had to say about the period I was looking into. I had grown up as a very aware and precocious youngster who taught himself to read and write.
As a youth and a young adult, I excelled in school work but failed in relating to my peers in either one of the two languages. However, my almost photographic memory aided me in my zeal for remembering my life and that of my people as one of the most significant parts of Panamanian history. It impressed me greatly to learn that I, although a young child, had lived a unique epoch right along with my people during their trek through Panama’s history.
Time and place, then, became as important as being famished for a plate of food or a drought of water. Time and place became for me an opportunity to observe how the actors would introduce themselves into the roles they themselves would later hate to even talk about. The manchild would notice how these actors, in the person of his people, would even deny memories of events worthy of being written and placed at the altar of posterity. Such was my attachment to memorials which have made my life what it is today.
Memories of Asia and the Asians in my personal life came back to haunt my reverie, as I remembered how close Luisa and Jack had been. Also, my own memories of race and racial discrimination among the Asians against the Westindian Blacks and how the Asians were normally resistant to associating themselves in any way with Westindians in business or in marriages came to mind. That if they occurred for me, they were events so rare that one hardly saw them, much less the products of their union.
I scanned my memory for those instances where in the communities of Chinese or of Hindus there would have been those accepted pairing off in marriage or simple associations, but, try as he might, I could find only one instance and it had been only in my personal case. It had been a time of my life that even I would try to forget for the emotional trauma suffered in that relationship, which started out as young teens in love.
It was now that, as a historian, I sought to dig into the topic of the relationship of those known Asiatic groups with my people, the very same people known as the Westindians that the Chinese and Hindu communities of Panama seemed to have forgotten. The people who really suffered the sting of the Silver Roll, the racially segregated system, during the same years the South Africans and the people at home in India and China suffered the aggression of the same system. Unlike their Asian counterparts, the Westindians of Panama have been a people, who, as an ethnic group in the country of Panama and on the Canal Zone, who always seemed to remain foreign, while the Chinese and Hindu Communities have generally been accepted without any seeming opposition.
Panamanian Westindians remain even today the same people, although their children and grandchildren have assimilated, integrating into the general social complex of communities of their country. They still, however, report emotional injuries from the old racism and rejection of their contribution to the country. Distilling still we the Westindians of Panamá are trying very hard to mark out our own place in the “Crisol de Razas,” that melting pot which Panama had come to be for us, and still we do not adhere.
Perhaps this will be the century for us to appreciate the admixture of metals which is us in the national culture. This is my hope that one more gesture of fraternal love would evolve as our Westindian children make their way home to Panama as prodigals willing to stay home forever. Although the prevailing daemons of race hatred have kept us, the products of the Westindian and the remnants of the Asiatics coolies, apart, my prayer is that we will come together as brethren to remember a history they both which began at almost the same time in the 19th century.
This story continues.