The Problem of Assimilation and Education

Image is of Antillean Adventist University
in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
This one, like many other educational
institutions overseas, became attractive
to Westindian parents looking for
educational opportunities for their
children outside of Panama.

Since the inauguration of the Canal in 1914 the Silver People of Panama had headed into the two largest urban centers populating both ends of the great ditch. While the Americans had waged war on the European continent they, at the same time, had accomplished one of the largest construction projects left in the Republic of Panama all with the indispensable Westindian labor force to back them up. However, like most of the Spanish speaking people of the Central America and Caribbean area, the Silver People would be left out of the recognition and support concomitant with such a grand accomplishment. They would enter the urban barrios with no infrastructure or policies of acceptance, particularly for their increasing population of school age children.

Right from the start, in fact, during the following year (1915) the Panamanian Spanish speaking population would mount a fierce opposition to the Silver Westindians in their midst. The basis for their fierceness, however, seemed to be misdirected towards a people whose sacrifice and work could be embodied in their brand new national anthem whose poetic stanzas echoed, “Remember the past, Calvary and the Cross” and further on… “Onward with picks and shovels, to work without delay.” Our national anthem had always seemed to me to be directed at the multitude of our Westindian grandfathers and clashed dramatically with the sudden tide of rejection the Westindians would have to suffer.

“West Indians will not assimilate culturally into Panamanian culture,” would be the overriding excuse for the calculated program of repudiation- the “Mount Calvary” of humiliating incidences- that would ensue. The fact of the matter was that throughout most of the Black Westindian historical presence in Panama the Panamanian public school system would flatly refuse to admit the children and adolescents of Westindian ethnicity into their schools.

The youngsters and their parents would meet with an increasingly arrogant and consistently overwhelming attitude of harassment as they would patiently attempt to approach the school authorities to request matriculation of their children for the school year.

This hostile scenario would, understandably, give rise to motives enough for Westindian parents to ship their young children and adolescents off to boarding schools in other countries of the region. It gave rise, in fact, to many cases of Panamanian born students in countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, England and even other places in parts of the West Indies.

This situation eventually gave rise to questions being asked by people in some of those host nations regarding Panamanians and their origins, “Are all Panamanians black like you?” So many of these Westindian children would find themselves growing up away from their homeland and starting out their educational careers in foreign countries while unwittingly becoming the largest representative group of the country of Panama to meet other youths outside of their country. Many people all over the world would begin to automatically identify the black Westindians as “the” Panamanians.

This story continues.

4 responses to “The Problem of Assimilation and Education

  1. Anita Cumberbatch

    “Many people all around the world would begin to identify the Black West Indians as “the ” Panamanians”, because the largely Panamanian mestizo population is invisible on the international scene. En pocas palabras, Panamanians of mestizo stock, have not done and are not doing anything of international importance.
    The majority Panamanian population as like the rest of Latin Americans, all reside in a small cocoon believing they are the descendants of the Conqustadores, when every one knows that it isn’t so.

    It is ironic that the vast Latin American population living in the United States are incapable of figuring out why they are considered a member of a minority group here in the United States.

    Many Panamanians of West Indian descent who have studied abroad constatnly return home to Panama with their advanced degrees ; often to be insulted and humilliated by the largely backward thinking people who run and reside in our native and beloved country.It is no surprise that many of us prefer to reside abroad.

    One individual in Panama, in a foolish blog,even had the nerve to scoff at the Panamanian born, Princess Angela of Liechtenstein. The fool in his comments, when referring to our Princess said: “What are foreigners going to think of us Panamanians, that we are all Black people?”.
    I couldn’t helped but be amazed at the blatant ignorance and stupidity.
    One last thing,usually if anything great or of importance happens to a Panamanian abroad , 99.9% of the times it is a Panamanian of West Indndian descent.

    Aita Cumberbatch

  2. Interesting the other day I had two conversations regarding language, culture, ethnicity and race. One of our new agents at work hired to speak Spanish kept talking to me in English. A co-worker asked her why since I am one of the few veteran agents who speak Spanish. He asked her, “ya te dije él es de Panamá” she answered without pause “mucho de los panameños no hablan español”; assuming she was referring to many West Indians from Panama in the USA. I was offended but what she was saying is true.
    I was on involved in an ugly internet exchanged and asked how come Puerto Rico is always represented by non-blacks. I got a response of “they only play baseball” which was the image this person has of their black brethren. Hopefully, we don’t have the same distate for our ‘mestizo’ brethren keeping in mind discrimination and blanket statements only perpetuate hate.

  3. Ocho-Gritos,

    All Latin Americans have a severe “racial identity” problem and I do believe they have fooled themselves into believing that it has no effect on their day-to-day lives but, as we have seen with the recent anti-Hispanic immigration trends, they are beginning to understand that they are not exactly white Europeans. Believe it or not, this rather twisted racial identity is very prevalent amongst black Hispanics and the more darker skinned mestizos.


  4. Anita,

    Your analysis is absolutely correct. Despite my reception here in Panama, however, I refuse to let everybody else in the world enjoy the wonderful things about my country, Panama, and not stay here and prosper. They will just have to put up with me.:-)