Tag Archives: assimilation

Speak Spanish!

Image thanks to thoughtfulindia.com

Image thanks to thoughtfulindia.com

We West Indian Panamanians are remarkable survivors and pretty soon I was socializing freely with the rest of the youth at Abel Bravo giving the school that singular air of Panamanian-ness.  Only in Panama could you find this mixture of people all living and trying to study harmoniously under one roof. That is, until racism would start to rear its ugly head. Continue reading

Oral History, Assimilation and the Black Christ

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I feel compelled to continue relating my personal experience with assimilation and how the history behind the black Christ helped me.  Assimilation seems to be on the minds of many people around the world these days, especially young people like I was when I first immigrated to the United States. Continue reading

The Mental Revolution Against Assimilation

My first image gallery of the syncretic response to assimilation by Black Hispanic people like me.

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assimilate: a. to take in and utilize as nourishment: absorb into the system.  b. to take into the mind and thoroughly comprehend.  c. to absorb into the culture and mores of a population or group.” Merriam Webster Continue reading

Part of Both Sides Now

For me the resulting experiences of those days that had just passed me by had left questions that the weekend moments of reflections would help to fill in. But it had not been as cut and dry for me being only an adolescent boy still intrigued by those expressions of kindness towards me. In the meantime, I was more than puzzled at the way things had turned out for me at school. I only hoped and prayed that the time left for me would favor me as well in that month of the final year at primary school. Continue reading

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.

A Right to be Different

Canicas or marbles.

As smaller children in our part of town we, the youngsters of Westindian parentage, would experience first hand in our daily childish games some of the hurdles to becoming totally integrated into the Panamanian social and cultural milieu. The days and evenings were filled with an operetta of activities for small children and adolescents accompanied by every imaginable type of game and invention kids are prone to come up with. Continue reading