The Black Expat Experience – Panama City, Panama

The Black or Afro experience is unique in how it brings us together. Sometimes it´s through trauma bonds and tears of seeing old photos of our Afro ancestors dirty, bloody, and in chains from the transatlantic slave trade or as recent as today seeing in America gunning down of black and brown bodies.

Photos were taken by Lawrence Wilder

However, the black experience is so much more than that. Many times it´s the bonds of dance, music, hair, food, language, and laughter that make us feel more connected to each other.

The black experience in Panama is no different. From the first time, I heard reggaeton with reggae beats in the background on the radio on my uber ride somewhere in the city.

To my excitement of being in a Reggae event in Panama and hearing a Caribbean accent but Spanish words coming from his mouth.

To walk into the Afro-Antillano Museum and see the afro-mannequins with head wraps. Then learning about the period of ¨ Gold and Silver Roll.¨ Which is a period of segregation similar to the ¨white only¨ and ¨ color only ¨ signs during Jim crow in the US.

Mannequin at the AfroAntillano Musuem

Current traditions of teaching the upcoming Afro-Panamanians about the history of braids in Panama.
The slaves would use braids to send messages and communicate with each other.

To the parades and celebrations around the city and the country of Etnia Negra or in English Black History Month.

Many Afro-Panamanians have told me that the afro culture has greatly improved in the last few years. While there is colorism and discrimination here still.
I am glad to say that the Afro culture is becoming appreciated and celebrated around Panama.

So, Where the Black People At??

The country of Panama has sections of country that are heavily populated by beautiful chocolate people.
Statistically, they say Panama is only 14%, of afro-descendant people. I´m sure it is a lot more than that but many Afro-Panamanians just believe they are just Panamians no afro needs to be attached. So yea.

The sections of Panama with a majority of black people are….

photo from google maps

One section is Colon. The colon is on the Atlantic side of Panama. Also where they brought many slaves to Panama. So many of the people in the Colon area are the OGs Afro-Panamanians.

The next section of Panama is Bocas del Toro or in English the Mouth of the Bull. This is the section of Panama that if you are an Island guy or gal will feel at home. My Jamaican friend said when she visited it was like she was back home again. They still speak Patois/Patwah there and of course Spanish and some English. You can even hear some creole from the Haitians as well.

Now we come to the city. Where I live and spent the most time in. The city is a mix of many people from all over the world. You have your pockets of the city with Brazilians, Asians, Venezuelans, and more. But the section of the city that is still heavily populated by Afro-descended people is Rio Abajo.

Afro-Antillana Street in Rio Abajo. Photo was taken by Lawrence Wilder

Rio Abajo is where many of the West Indies lived as they were building the Canal.

Rio Abajo is like a hidden gem of Panama. Easy to drive right by. No fancy buildings or parks. However, you look around greeted by more black faces. Think to yourself, yay more black people!

Like many places all over the world Colon and Rio Abajo are places people tell you not to go. With the same broken record of crime and violence. Until ¨someone¨ comes and gentrifies the area and kicks all the people who live there out. Now, it´s a ¨nice¨ and ¨respectable¨ place for others.
In the meantime, Bocas del Toro is being gentrified by the hipsters and surfer people.

However, I am on a mission to uplift and build up all Afro-populated places with people that look like me!

At Donde Ivan with one of the employees Mrs. Mayra. Photo was taken by Lawrence Wilder

You might be wondering where I should go and what I should do in the Rio Abajo area. Unfortunately, there is not much to do in the area yet.

However, Rio Abajo is where you go to Donde Stan´s to get a Beef patty, not an empanada, Jamaican Bun, or bacalao. Bacalao is a patty or fried pastry with crab or seafood meat in it. This is where you can eat at any local afro-owned restaurants such as Fonda Francis, Donde Ivan, or Donde Fanso.

Also if you want to live in this Rio Abajo or across the street in the Parque Lefevre area. They have a few nice apartments in the area. They have 2 local grocery stores Super99 and El Rey. You always have the local fresh food market as well. There is a hospital only 5 or so minutes away as well.

The apartments are a lot cheaper in these areas too. Now in these areas, you aren´t going to find the sparkling and shiny type of life. However, if you want to interact and get to know real Afro-Panama in the city area. Come to Rio Abajo pour into the community, and have your kids interact with the local afro-Panamanians at the Reynold Gym. Volunteer to help clean up the streets or help teach English.

All people want to be loved, heard, and seen. Afro-Panamanians are no different. The black experience is appreciation, smiles, color, dance, hair, head wraps, and of course food. Rio Abajo, Colon, and Bocas del Toro have that and of course soul!

Let´s Go!

In Rio Abajo. Photo was taken by Lawrence Wilder

So, I challenge you when visiting or living in Panama. Visit Colon City not just the Portobello area with the beautiful beaches.

Go to Bocas del Toro and seek out the black places.

If you stay in the city to visit or live in or near the Rio Abajo area. To pour into the community by buying the coco bread from the lady selling it by carrying it on her head like they still do in Africa.

Go get the Beef patty from Stan´s. Eat at the many local restaurants next to each other. If you are into businesses and investments look into how you can impact and invest in the Afro-Panamanian culture.

The Black Experience is to impact all Afro-communities. While I´m living in Panama I will try and bring awareness to Afro-Panamanian communities and I hope you can do the same!

As Always Thank You for Reading My World, My Vision, My Adventure! 

Don’t forget to Subscribe, Follow, and Like my Facebook and Instagram pages. Until next time Peace and Hair Grease!

2 responses to “The Black Expat Experience – Panama City, Panama”

  1. Love reading your blog, Biola! What I’ve really liked about Panama is seeing people of all colors of the rainbow. And everyone seems to get along. Hey, Biola, are there any cool (in temperature) areas around Panama City? My body has trouble with intense heat and humidity, so when I’ve been in Panama, I’ve been in the western, mountainous region. I’ve only changed planes in PTY. So, if there are indeed any towns near PTY that’re cool to cold, at least some of the time, please let me know. Many thanks!

    • Hi Hazel, Thanks for reading my blogs. I would definitely agree so many people from all walks of life here, and everyone is mostly friendly. Unfortunately, if you want cooler weather in Panama. West is where you need to be.

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