Tag Archives: coolies

You Won’t Find Our Story in Any History Book

By sixth grade my Spanish School experience led me to conclude that our teachers wanted us more Spanish than Westindian. So unique were we, however, that being ourselves made us quite different; at least that is what I thought. Continue reading

Fellow Christians in Our Midst

Top image: Boatload of Barbadian laborers arriving in Port of Cristobalcourtesy of: www.canalmuseum.comMiddle: Newly arrived Indian coolies in West Indies around 1900Bottom: Political Cartoon of Uncle Sam dealing with the “coolie” situation in the U.S.courtesy: www.wikipedia.com

 

As the River Chagres bid the people of this hemisphere to come see the Eden the Almighty had created, so did the Ganges in far away Asia, and the Yellow River take over the environment, forcing its peoples to congregate on its banks. Thus, people came from all over the continent of Asia, homeless and thirsty for the life force embodied in the rivers, the rivers that fed and nurtured them to health. Continue reading

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

 

Images: Top: Chinatown in Panama City during Chinese New Year
Courtesy of: www.panama-guide.com
Bottom: One of the Original Commercial Chinese Vegetable Gardens
Courtesy of: www.czimages.com

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. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Isolation

The evening at Luisa and Jack’s might have seemed an unlikely evening for one such as myself, a writer historian, but I rapidly recognized the rarity of this couple of surviving nonagenarians, who had grew to symbolize for me the kind of life and circumstances in a Panama marked by isolation. Still, at home that evening and for the days that followed, the older couple and their remarkable experiences filled my thoughts.

As a descendant of one of the Canal Zone pioneer families, and one of the first “Silver” families who had braved separation from the Canal Zone proper to live under the protection of the Panamanian government since the year of 1913, I could appreciate what their life might have been like and their great sense of freedom to be with each other. I could also appreciate my own uniqueness and who and what I really came from.

I had tasted of the south of the United States and its hateful discriminatory and inhuman practices. I had also gained experience as a virtually illiterate high school drop-out from Panama’s educational system when I entered the U.S. Air force back in the late 50’s. Shortly after training I was, in essence, reborn as my horizon expanded to a totally Asiatic environment when I traveled farther than I would have imagined after being transferred to Japan.

A stranger even to Americans and to their Air force Base, an oddity even to the young Black American men that surrounded me on a daily basis, I felt “stuck” together with the other children of Africa, thrown together, it seemed, as we might have been on a slave ship. There, in those far off lands I had once only heard about, we all had thoughts of being hated just for the hue of our skin. We were thrown together like whores in marriages of convenience.

Although we were just boys, really, bordering on manhood, I perceived, the experience in the Air Force for them was an escape from the hated “Southern life of their beloved USA.” Since at that time I had not had time to even experience life in New York, I felt trapped. The Blacks who were acculturating me to that life in what they called the “Mason-Dixon Line, or the “Cotton Curtain,” were my teachers. For them, it seemed, it was like the “Iron Curtain” the white talking media reported about in the evening news. In fact, I had even been new to TV, the device everyone clung to evening after boring evening.

So then, here I was, a Spanish West Indian, a unique creature in and of itself, but also unique because I had experienced the hard life and labor of a Banana Plantation field worker. Even so, I always felt as though I’d failed somehow at making a connection with them. Although I tried for most of my existence in the USA to be able to communicate with my Black American counterparts as acquaintance, co-worker, husband, or even neighbor, I never quite accomplished it. And, Isolated still from the white race of Americans, I never expected relations with them to reach any higher levels than “how do you do.”

Until those days of 1994, when I met Miss Luisa and her family, my knowledge of even my people the West Indians had been sparse, or so I thought. And, I knew much less of the other races of people who surrounded my family after arriving in Panama City proper in 1913 to live in the Barrio of San Miguel, which was near enough and convenient for all who worked on the American Canal Zone.

But, my meeting with Jack and Luisa had begun to fill my perspective of who I was and to help me understand the isolation I had always felt. Here I was face to face with one of the former Hindu coolie workers of the many Hindu and Chinese coolies who had labored alongside my Black West Indian ancestors on the Canal construction project.

Needless to say, I felt fortunate to have found Mr. Jack London and to have heard him speak briefly about his role in the construction of one of the main dams that has harnessed the flow of water to serve the canal for all of these 90 years. This story continues.