Panama is a ‘Sancocho’

Armando Fortune’s idea of Panama as a “sancocho“-a mixture of elements rather than a welding together- in contradistinction to the old oligarchy’s notion of Panama as a Crisol de las Razas – or a melting pot of races, seems somehow more accurate especially coming from a highly observant and eloquent Black man who lived the rigors of growing up black in Panama. 

As Gerardo Maloney, one of his disciples, aptly expressed it, “Fortune knew very well that behind this depiction of Panama being a ‘melting pot’ was the ‘etnofobia’ (a term he coined) within it’s national borders, especially in the urbanized cities of Panama and Colón, where the black population of the country was concentrated.”

According to Luis Pulido Ritter, a Panamanian novelist and student of Armando Fortune (1921-1979), has said that he was the first Panamanian intellectual to transform our black African origins into the starting point in acquiring an understanding of the Panamanian national ideology of racial mixture or “mestizaje,”– to gain an insight into the national psyche. He himself, noted Ritter, was well aware of his personal, cultural and intellectual position regarding his uncovering the real history of Panama’s relationships with her multitudinous Black population; he was representative of this nation that excluded the Blacks at a time in history when the West Indian Blacks had come to this country from the Caribbean for the construction of the first and second Panama Canal.

In his passionate studies, Armando Fortune, says Ritter, in treating the African and Caribbean presence in Panama was likened to a Panamanian Aimé Césaire in recognizing that, without the black element, Panamanian nationality would be incomplete.  Regarding the construction of the nation, Fortune, on the contrary, asserted that blacks, as an element within the origin and history of the country, were and are an irrefutable presence the country could never deny. Fortune, by his intellectual and professional career belonged to the class of Panamanians concerned with setting aright the construction of a nation in which he had found the Negro to have a vital and indisputable presence since colonial times.

Fortune had, as a backdrop, the likes of a George Westerman who, being of Westindian descent, reached the heights of Minister of State in the U.N.  Fortune, on the other hand, did not receive the merited recognition on the part of the intellectual/academic community nor was he deemed part of the black activists of his times.

In Armando Fortune’s discourses regarding the Negro or the human being of African descent, the African figured an integral part of his make up as an academician, newspaperman and essayist. Such was his commitment that his sole interest was to reveal the exclusionary traits in the conventional academic dissertations on the subject of race and class and challenged quite effectively the inaccurate notion of a “crucible” or “melting pot” and its supposed role in the “miscegenation” of the population of Panama.   I wholeheartedly uphold his labeling Panama as a Sancocho.

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