Were it not for the intellectual and literary legacy of Professor Armando Fortune (1921-1979) we of the Afro Panamanian ethnic group of Panama – especially the West Indian Panamanian group- would not be celebrating Black Ethnicity month today.
With all due respect and recognition which the Honorable Claral Richards Thompson and Diputado Osman Gomez deserves, Professor Fortune, as a brilliant predecessor, fertilized the ground so that this Black Etnicity movement could occur. We must remember the Honorable Richards Thompson and Legislator Osman Gomez were the movers and shakers behind Law # 9 of May 30, 2000 which gave El Día de la Etnia Negra a national legal basis, establishing it as a valid commemoration of the contributions of the Black race in the country of Panama. Professor Fortune, however, was more than a brave soul. He was a true champion for the cause of the recognition of the vital presence and role of the Black men and women in Panamanian history and culture.
Armando Fortune, whom I had the great fortune of meeting back in 1975, was born on February 16, 1921 in Panama City. A man of humble nature, he was, nevertheless, very talented and among the multiple hats he wore he was an a secondary school teacher, an economist, a journalist, and was the private secretary of Ricardo J. Alfaro. He was also a “tireless fighter for the recognition of the contribution of black people to Panama’s nationality.”
He was also a member of the Panamanian Academy of History and the Panamanian Academy of Language –La Academia Panameña de la Lengua. In his passionate acceptance speech for the latter he revealed the theme that had so burned in his heart for so many years:
“For many years, for personal reasons, we began to scrutinize Panamanian life, and immediately the black man stepped in our path.” It was natural that this should happen since without the black man Panama would not be Panama. As a human element of high regard in the total population of the isthmus, the Panamanian black not could continue to be ignored. There was a need to study this factor of Panama’s national identity. But, it was something rare until then since no one had studied it with the detail and objectivity that this group deserved, and it seemed that no one wanted to study it; rather, the intention was to hide this group, and that even the same black person, and especially the Mulato, wanted to forget himself, ‘a truly sad case of the phenomenon of self deprecation’ as Dr. Fernando Ortíz would say, and so, in this way, forget his past, just as sometimes the leper hides from others the misfortune of his condition.”
In this manner we begin this series with the reserved and unpretentious figure of Professor Armando Fortune, one of the most overlooked of Panama’s intellectuals despite his extraordinary brilliance. In our next installment we hope to develop Professor Fortune’s unique concept – “Panama is a sancocho.”
This story continues.