Foreigners or Citizens: The Presence of the Asians and the West Indians


Images: Top: Chinatown in Panama City during Chinese New Year
Courtesy of:
Bottom: One of the Original Commercial Chinese Vegetable Gardens
Courtesy of:

The issue of race discrimination, in our view, has had great bearing on how the Asian people in the Republic of Panama have been able to survive periods of xenophobia, as much as the West Indian Blacks, and be included in Panamanian history. It remains a part of history, however, as yet untold, particularly their relationship to one another and especially to the Black West Indians in their midst.

As part of Panama’s tapestry of people who have survived, reaching 21st century Panama, the West Indian Blacks, however, have not that parallel with their other former coolie counterparts. Nevertheless, our story reveals nuances that are most impacting to the issues of human relationships as we study those issues between the inhabitants of our planet earth.

The Chinese and Hindu communities which also arrived in this isthmus at approximately the same time in history played their roles in different ways to meet the demands of the powers that contracted, and employed the often wretched, poverty stricken, men from Asia, who were recruited with promises that were never kept. They, mostly men, braved the times and circumstances to become farmers and small businessmen, and soon were able to remain a source of aid and comfort, an anchor, to their fellow immigrant countrymen until our present time.

It is our hope that with this series of articles, we are able to offer our readers a story worthy of their time. We ourselves hope to be no more than reflector, a mirror, or an optical instrument, the proverbial medium by which we can provide a view to a type of human interaction no one, as yet, has been able to relate.

We must underscore for our readers, however, that we are still dealing with the times during and after the genocidal attempt at extinguishing the life blood of our native, aboriginal people. It, as we have seen in former posts, was a period of history in which the continent was giving birth to a new race of people, born of the mixture of the races. Such an era spanned from the beginning years of the 18th century, from as far away as the state of California, in North America.

The period would have significance for the small strip of land which could and did unite the Atlantic with the Pacific oceans, the first to see an intercontinental railroad built in 1848-1855. The period also saw some dramatic and bloody times as the people of Panama dreamt of breaking with the powerful but corrupt Colombian government that fate had linked them to in 1821. The native Mexican people would also pass into colonial history as they were expropriated off their ancient lands and enslaved like the Blacks of the old southern United States.

Shortly after that period a frenzied race would be undertaken to build a railroad all over the United States that would do what had been accomplished in Panama. As in Panama, the Asians, particularly the Chinese, played an important role in this significant development of the western territories in the U.S.

As the Asian people acted out their roles, first as serfs, and then as small businessmen with contacts in the U.S. and Asia during the 19th and 20th centuries, they would leave a legacy that merits recounting in the annals of Panamanian history.

Some of the same men, in fact, who later financed and built railroads in the U.S. during these periods, would still have power and control in our country fifty to a hundred years later. Since before the times of our last great and martyred native Indian general, however, Victoriano Lorenzo, our ancestors remained as travelers and then laborers in Panama. They, the West Indians, as well as their Asian counterparts had seen the same events. They are the present day ethnic minorities, still considered as foreigners in many circles, but Panamanian, nevertheless.

The Panamanian born Chinese, Hindus and the West Indian Blacks, continue to deal with the challenge, even today, of transforming the views of their fellow Panamanian citizens to see them as legitimate citizens and contributors to the culture and social climate of the country.

This story continues.

One response to “Foreigners or Citizens: The Presence of the Asians and the West Indians

  1. Kyle & Svet Keeton

    Seems the battle for recognition of race and birthrights are all over the world. Seems that always one race wants another to be subservient.

    I shake my head when I see one race of people look down on another.