In my short time talking with members of Panama’s black community, I’m struck by how far the Caribbean diaspora reaches. There are two main groups of black people in Panama: Afro-Coloniales, descended from former freed slaves brought over by the Spanish in the 16th century, and Afro-Antillanos, descended from Caribbean laborers on the Panama Canal and the United Fruit Company in Bocas del Toro. The more recent immigrants to Panama, Afro-Antillanos are more likely to self-identify as black and are easier to speak with on issues of race and racism. The community is tight-knit, but the array of viewpoints is diverse.
Tomorrow I will spend the morning with Dr. Carlos Russell, an activist in Panama and in the United States — as well as a journalist, poet, playwright, former UN ambassador, retired professor at CUNY Medgar Evars in Brooklyn, and founder of Black Solidarity Day. He met and worked with both MLK Jr. and Malcolm X during the ’60s and ’70s.
In his 1980 paper “Some Thoughts on the Crisis of Identity and Nationality Affecting Africans in the Diaspora,” he argues that the African race is dying out due to the past and continued violence of colonialism. Blacks’ attempted assimilation into white European culture only further compounds the problem, he argues. Furthermore, the only solution to this genocide is pan-African diasporic cultural and economic solidarity, in which black people globally realize the contributions their people have made over time and decide to break from the shackles of neo-colonialism.
Obviously, his views are among the most radical, even in the black activist community. I’ve come to Panama seeking out revolution, and this seems like a good place to start.