Panamanian Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
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Panamanian Americans

Rosetta Sharp Dean


Panamanian Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Panama, a country in Central America. Panama is bounded by the Caribbean Sea to the north, Colombia to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the south, and Costa Rica to the west. The country has a tropical climate with a dry season that extends from January to May and a rainy season that goes from May to December. Panama's land mass measures 29,762 square miles (77,381 square kilometers), which makes it slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina.

Panama has a population of 3,405,813 (U.S. State Department, March 2012), which is comparable to that of Los Angeles, California. The majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholic (84 percent), while the rest are Protestant (15 percent) or are Jewish or Muslim (1 percent). The majority of Panamanians, 67 percent, are of mestizo origin (mixed Spanish and Native American, or mixed Spanish, Native American, Chinese, and West Indian). The rest of the population is composed of various ethnic minorities, including indigenous peoples (12.3 percent), persons of African descent (9.2 percent), and Caucasians and Asians (11.5 percent). Many Panamanians have ancestors who arrived in the country from Africa (primarily through the African slave trade); others have ancestors who migrated from the West Indies, perhaps largely to gain employment, including working on the Panama Canal. Most of Panama's economy remains under the control of a small, elite segment of the population descended from Europeans, while 28 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, with 11.4 percent living in extreme poverty.

Panamanians have settled in the United States since 1820. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Panamanians congregated in urban areas, especially in very large cities. In 1920, for example, when 49 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, 87 percent of Panamanian Americans resided in cities. They gravitated to cities because their education, occupational skills, and lifestyles were suited to urban society and because these areas were more receptive to new immigrant populations. Most recently, one of the largest Panamanian American communities is in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City; in addition, large numbers of Panamanian Americans can also be found in Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California.

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated that in 2009–2011 there were 176,287 Panamanian Americans; this is about the size of the population of Huntsville, Alabama. Panamanian Americans congregate in several regions across the country, including New England, the Pacific Coast, the Gulf Coast, the middle Atlantic, and the Great Lakes area. New York City contains by far the largest urban population of Panamanian Americans; mestizo, black, and native Panamanians living in New York numbered more than 30,000 in 2008.


Early History Panama was the native name of a village on the Pacific Coast of the Isthmus of Panama. Before contact with the Spanish, Panama was inhabited by a large number of Native Americans who lived in chiefdoms. They depended on the area's fish, birds, and sea turtles for food, as well as on starchy root crops. Numbering nearly one million when the Spanish arrived in 1501, the largest group was the Cuna. The country's name, which means “land of plenty of fish,” may also come from the Cuna words panna mai, or “far away,” a reply to Spaniards who asked where to find gold. The name Panama is also believed to be a Guarani Indian word meaning “butterfly,” but also signifying a mud fish, perhaps because the flaps of the mudfish resembled the wings of a butterfly.

Since the 1500s the area that is now Panama has been controlled by foreign powers. In 1513 the Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa landed in Panama; crossed its narrow strip of land, or its isthmus; and reached the Pacific Ocean. From that time forward, the Isthmus of Panama has been a major crossroad of the world, linking the two American continents and separating the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Balboa's discovery opened up a shorter route to Peru and the silver of the Incan Empire. Fortune seekers from Europe could land at Colón, cross the narrow isthmus, and set sail on the Pacific for Peru. Shortly after his discovery, Balboa was condemned for treason and put to death with the help of a former aide, Juan Pizarro, who then used the route to conquer the Incas. Afterward, Panama became an important thoroughfare and supply post for Spanish conquistadors and later government troops, officials, and traders.

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By 1519 Spanish settlements had been established, and the Spanish king's appointed governor, Pedro Arias de Avila, had settled in the village of Panama. Under his rule, Balboa's native allies were killed and other natives enslaved. Many fled to the jungle or to the swampland and isolated islands on the northeast coast. A priest, Bartolomé de las Casas, was outraged by the natives' enslavement throughout Spain's New World Empire and persuaded the Crown to end this practice. By this time, many natives had died from disease and mistreatment, while those who escaped had become isolated in the forests and swamps. The separation of native groups from European descended Panamanians remains today. African slaves became so important to the Spanish that the British were given a contract to deliver 4,800 slaves per year for thirty years despite actual and feared slave revolts.

From the beginning of the colonial era, the narrowness of the land had inspired the idea of building a canal through Panama. The Spanish, however, were disinclined to build one, as they wanted to keep rival fortune seekers away from the Pacific Ocean. For the next three hundred years, the only route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean other than sailing around the tip of South America was a muddy jungle road through Panama, and travelers were frequently attacked. The area became hotly contested by European powers. British forces captured a fortress on the Atlantic side, Portobello, several times, and buccaneers troubled the area in the 1600s. The Scots attempted to begin a colony in Panama and open the land to trade in 1698, but they failed due to disease and Spanish resistance. Spain held on to the land and controlled its markets. From 1718 to 1722, the Spanish government in Peru held authority over Panama. Spain's viceroy of Granada (who ruled Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela) assumed control in 1739. When this government fell in 1819, the viceroy moved to Panama and ruled there for two more years.

Although Panama obtained its independence from Spain in 1821, close relations between the two continued. From the very beginning of Spain's relationship with Panama, natives of both groups had interacted and intermarried. These practices continued after Panama's independence, and the mestizo heritage—or Panamanians of both Spanish and native Panamanian heritage—continued to flourish. The ancestors of the modern Panamanian people managed to preserve their Spanish heritage despite governance by various European and Colombian conquests. At independence, Panama joined the new republic of Greater Colombia. This body was formed from a large majority of South America and sections of Central America between 1819 and 1830, and it included the present-day nations of Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The president of the country was Simón Bolívar, who assumed control in 1819 at the Congress of Angostura. Because of conflicts that arose between the various regions, the body was dissolved in 1830. Panama and Colombia remained joined until 1903.

The California gold rush in the late 1840s renewed interest in travel between the oceans, so in 1845 the United States helped to build the first transcontinental railroad across Panama. Meanwhile, France, Britain, and the United States explored the possibility of building a canal to join the two oceans by way of either Panama or Nicaragua. In 1879 Ferdinand de Lesseps of France, the builder of the Suez Canal in Egypt, began construction of a canal through Panama under a license from Colombia. After years of struggle with finances, the jungle, and especially disease (yellow fever and malaria), he abandoned the project. All told, 16,000 to 22,000 workers had died.

Modern Era In the early 1900s the Colombians fought a civil war—the War of a Thousand Days. Colombian rebels operated from bases in Nicaragua, passing through Panama on their way to fight in Colombia. Because the United States had a continued interest in building a canal in Panama, it intervened in the war and established a truce in 1902. In 1903–1904, with U.S. support, Panama declared its independence from Colombia, drew up its first constitution, and elected its first president. In 1903 the United States signed the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty with Panama, in which a concession for a public maritime transportation service (or the building of a canal) across the isthmus was granted. The treaty also gave the United States control over strips of land five miles (eight kilometers) wide on either side of the canal. The United States did not own what would become known as the Canal Zone, but the treaty allowed it to lease the area “in perpetuity.” In return the United States agreed to pay Panama $10 million plus an annual rent of $250,000, which was later increased to $1.93 million.

In 1904 the United States purchased France's rights to the unfinished canal for $40 million and began the herculean task of carving a canal through the isthmus. Many able and dedicated people were involved in this venture, including Americans and a considerable number of local workers. Among them were Colonel William C. Gorges, an army doctor who achieved a major triumph in wiping out yellow fever and reducing malaria, the mosquito-borne diseases that had decimated workers in previous attempts to build a canal, and Colonel George W. Goethals, an army engineer who was put in charge of the operation in 1907 and who later became the first governor of the Canal Zone. The giant excavation through the mountains of the Continental Divide at Culebra Cut, later renamed Gaillard Cut, was directed by engineer David Gaillard. After seven years of digging and construction, and the expenditure of $380 million, the Panama Canal was officially opened on August 15, 1914, and the U.S. cargo ship Ancon made the first transit.

After World War II, Panamanians opposed to the U.S. presence in the Canal Zone demanded Page 451  |  Top of Articlerenegotiation of the 1903 treaty, but it nonetheless remained in effect until the 1960s, when disputes again arose over U.S. control of the zone. The United States agreed to reopen negotiations concerning the Canal Zone, and in 1977 General Omar Torrijos Herrera, head of the Panamanian government, and U.S. president Jimmy Carter stipulated joint administration of the canal starting in 1979 and the complete return of the zone to Panama on December 31, 1999. The new agreements replaced the treaty of 1903 and turned over to Panama the governance of the Canal Zone and the territory of the Canal Zone itself, except for areas needed to operate and defend the actual canal. The United States remained responsible for the operation and military defense of the canal until December 31, 1999, after which it came under complete Panamanian control.

The presence of the canal changed lifestyles in the country. A people that had primarily earned their living as subsistence farmers now gained most of their income from the canal. The canal employs about 3,500 U.S. citizens and some 10,000 Panamanians.

The canal has resulted in sustained relations between the United States and Panama, and the U.S. federal government has had a large influence on Panamanian affairs. In 1988 General Manuel Noriega used his military prominence to seize control of the Panamanian government, establishing a dictatorship, which brought him great personal wealth. Previously supported by the United States, Noriega became the object of condemnation, based on evidence linking him to drug trafficking, murder, and election fraud. In an attempt to quash Noriega, the United States imposed severe economic sanctions on Panama. Although the Panamanian working class suffered from these actions, Noriega himself was virtually unaffected. In December 1989 a U.S. invasion of Panama led to the ousting of Noriega, who officially surrendered in January 1990. He was taken to the United States and convicted on drug charges in 1992. Since then, Panama has enjoyed a more democratic form of government.


Panamanians began immigrating to the United States in 1820 in numbers that have steadily increased. Overall, more than a million Panamanians have relocated to the United States over the past 175 years. However, the U.S. Census Bureau did not tabulate separate statistics for Panama and other Central and South American nations until 1960. In the 1830s only 44 arrivals were recorded, but by the early twentieth century, more than 1,000 came annually. After World War I, immigration numbers decreased, partially because of the Organic Act and other immigration legislation put in place during the early 1920s. The 1940 Census listed only 7,000 Central Americans; many apparently had died or returned home. A substantial number of Panamanians settled in Florida and California. An investigation of legal permanent residents, though, reveals high immigration rates during the 1940s and upon the conclusion of World War II, likely because of the influx of female Panamanians as brides. Over 15,000 Panamanians lived in New York in 1970, with fewer than 600 in San Francisco. After World War II, the number of immigrants increased rapidly, and by 1970, Central Americans numbered 174,000. In addition, it is believed that Panamanian Americans, in general, experienced a relatively warm reception from the United States, in light of the U.S. relationship with Panama itself (the country was designated a protectorate of the United States).

Paradoxically, the flow of emigrants from Panama was small for nearly the entire period in which there were no immigration restrictions on applicants from the Western Hemisphere, but increased dramatically after the 1965 Immigration Act, which imposed a ceiling of 120,000 admissions from that hemisphere. By 1970 Panamanians constituted one of the largest of the Central American groups in the United States.

Women outnumbered men among Panamanian immigrants by about one-third, in contrast to other Latin American immigrant groups, who typically had more men than women. The number of immigrant males per hundred females was very low in the 1960s, falling to 51 for Panama. The percentage of immigrants under twenty years of age was higher for males than for females; most female immigrants were between the ages of twenty and fifty, many of them service, domestic, or clerical workers who immigrated to earn money to send home, like many others from Central and South America.

Since 1962 the percentage of employed newcomers who are domestic workers has remained high, ranging from 15 to 28 percent. The entry of domestic workers and children after 1968 was eased by a new immigration policy with a preference system that established family reunification as the foundation for admission. As of 1990 there were approximately 86,000 people of Panamanian descent living in the United States. Twenty years later the population had risen to 176,287, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) estimates for 2009–2011.

Over the past few decades, more Panamanians have entered the United States through marriage and to pursue higher educational opportunities or to cultivate professional relationships. These trends have led to an increasing number of Panamanians becoming naturalized U.S. citizens and entering the U.S. military during the War on Terror. The 2009–2011 ACS reported that 65 percent of foreign-born Panamanian Americans had gained U.S. citizenship.


The Panamanian dialect is distinctive. For the first generation of immigrants, regardless of the period of arrival in the United States, Spanish was the primary language—Caribbean Spanish in particular. Subsequent generations spoke Spanish less often, eventually switching to English as their principal language. Among Central American ethnic groups,

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Panamanians are the most likely to speak English as their primary language in the home; 71 percent of them do so. This practice most likely results from the high levels of English instruction available in Panama due to the presence of U.S. citizens, military, and workers. Similarly, Panamanian Americans tend to intermix with other ethnic groups, including through marriage, which means that they have not stayed in isolated communities.


Approximately 84 percent of Panamanians nominally belong to the Roman Catholic Church, and 15 percent are Protestant. Most of these are Evangelicals, although other Christian denominations in Panama include Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Unitarians. A small minority of Jews and Muslims are also found there. In Panamanian Catholicism, as in the Catholic tradition worldwide, much emphasis is given to the mother of Jesus, Mary, who is held up as an example for the women.

Although most Panamanians are Roman Catholic, church and state are separate, and religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution. The religious sensibility of the Panamanians is reflected in their frequent celebration of religious holidays. Perhaps because of the diversity of their home country, Panamanian Americans practice a variety of religious faiths.


Little is known about the early Panamanians in the United States. Because the U.S. Census Bureau did not tabulate separate statistics for individual Central and South American nations until 1960, the characteristics of the individual national groups were buried in aggregated immigration and census statistics. It is often assumed that the Panamanians share a common culture with other Latin Americans. Although the majority of Latin Americans do share a Spanish or Portuguese heritage, they represent diverse peoples. In the past, insufficient knowledge of Panamanian ethnic characteristics generated misconceptions among Americans. This lack of clarity has been exacerbated by the fact that Panamanian Americans—like many peoples from Central and South America—identify with different ethnic groups. For example, some Panamanian Americans view themselves as African American, whereas others see themselves as Hispanic.

In general, Panamanian Americans have found ways to retain connections with Panama, one of which involves the numerous social organizations associated with Panama that exist across the United States. Some organizations arrange celebrations of festivals and holidays. Other Panamanian Americans have found new ways to conduct celebrations native to the United States, but which exalt Panamanian foods and traditions: the elaborate parade held in Brooklyn every year (in “Little Panama”) in celebration of “Panama Day” is Page 453  |  Top of Articleone example. The increased sophistication of communications technology has also assisted in this purpose. The fact that many Panamanians moved to the United States to obtain employment and sent funds home for support is another indicator of the sustained ties between Panama and Panamanian Americans. Despite these connections, however, Panamanian Americans in general do not seem to maintain as strong a tie to their home country as some of their Latin American counterparts. This may be because their culture in general is less homogenous than that of other Latin American countries. In addition, Panamanians became accustomed to U.S. workers living in their country to work to construct the Panama Canal, so Panama's interactions with the United States and other nations has been more fluid.

Traditions and Customs Urban and rural Panamanians share a certain set of common values. One of these values can be found in the idea of personalismo (“formal friendliness”). This term represents a belief in interpersonal trust and in individual honor and is accompanied by a distrust of organizations and a high sensitivity to praise or insult. Family is extremely important to Panamanians, and they value most highly members of their extended family. Within families a personal characteristic that is universally valued is machismo, the image of men as strong, daring, and dominant. Perhaps in contrast to this popular persona for males, is the expectation of women to be gentle, forgiving, and dedicated to their children. Other traits that are highly valued include respeto (“respect”), confianza (“trust”), and familismo (“closeness of the extended family”). Since Panamanian Americans are influenced by the customs of the United States, some of their practices have shifted these roles slightly. For example, women are now sometimes the heads of households in Panamanian American families. For Panamanian Americans, family continues to be a crucial and high priority, even if the distinctive roles and characteristics associated with gender and familial responsibility shift because of their experiences in the United States.

Besides Christian and Catholic holidays, Panamanian Americans also celebrate the Independence Day of Panama on November 3, the date on which Panama separated from Colombia. Panamanian Americans in New York have set up a practice of organizing a pre–Independence Day Parade (frequently in October). In other areas of the country, Panamanian organizations congregate for Independence Day parades as well, especially in Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California. Other holidays are also celebrated, though Mother's Day might be observed by some on December 8, as it is in Panama. Because of the strong Catholic tradition in Panama, Carnival might also be celebrated on the four days before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Catholic Lenten fast. In addition, the Festival of the Black Christ on October 21 inspires a lively celebration.

Dances and Songs Panamanian Americans most frequently demonstrate the traditions and customs of their heritage in celebrations like Brooklyn's Panama Day, held in “Little Panama”. During such celebrations, Panamanian Americans don costumes, engage in their traditional dances, and sing songs that have been famous in Panama for generations. Other similar but perhaps smaller festivals are held around the United States. In general, Panamanians love festivity, and during their celebrations, one can see in their traditional costumes and folk dances some of the more colorful aspects of life in Panama.

It is often assumed that the Panamanians share a common culture with other Latin Americans. Although the majority of Latin Americans do share a Spanish or Portuguese heritage, they represent diverse peoples.

The tradition of Panamanian song and dance dates back to the seventeenth century. The national dance is the tamborito. It is of African origin and involves a man and a woman dancing and pretending to flirt with each other while surrounded by a circle of other dancers. Other couples take turns dancing at the center of the circle. The dance is performed to the beat of the caja and pujador, drums that were originally used by slaves brought to Panama from Africa and the West Indies during the colonial period. During the dance the woman wears the pollera (a full, long, white dress decorated with embroidery) or the montuna (a long skirt with bright floral patterns worn with a white, embroidered, off-the-shoulder blouse). The man's costume, the montuno, consists of a long white cotton shirt with fringe or embroidered decorations and knee-length trousers. The tamborito is especially popular during Carnival. Lively salsa—a mixture of Latin American popular music, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock—is a Panamanian specialty. In addition to these genres, Panamanian music preferences also include jazz and calypso. More recently, reggae, especially Spanish reggae, has gained a strong following.

Panama's two traditional song forms are both derived from Spanish influences. The copla is performed by women, whereas men sing the mejorana to the accompaniment of a guitar, also called a mejorana. Another popular song form is the saloma, which is also performed by men using yodeling and falsetto tones. Los Angeles based Viva Panama has popularized Panamanian music in the United States and offers instruction in traditional dances and songs.


During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Panamanian American family underwent profound changes. The first immigrants were typically Page 454  |  Top of Articlesingle males who had left their families behind temporarily to save enough money to send for them later. In most early discussions of immigration, Panamanians were not considered separately from other Latin American groups. The number of African Panamanian Americans, for example, can be inferred only from the count of nonwhites in the 1960 and the 1970 censuses.

Demographics show that Panamanian families usually have two or three children. Panamanian Americans have a higher rate of divorce than their Latin American counterparts, which means that single mothers often serve as the heads of households. Grandparents often play a major role in child-rearing, too. At the time of the 2000 U.S Census, nearly 50 percent of Panamanian Americans are married. The 2009–2011 ACS estimates indicated that that figure had dropped to 40 percent. Since many Panamanian American women work outside the home (65.6 percent were in the labor force, according to the 2009–2011 ACS), economic conditions have gradually improved, and immigrants have been able to purchase homes, cars, and modern appliances or to rent larger apartments in more prosperous neighborhoods.

Courtship and Weddings Most wedding ceremonies, as they have been traditionally practiced in Panama, involve two requirements: (1) the man and woman must say that they want to become husband and wife, and (2) the ceremony must have witnesses, including the official who marries the couple. If the couple has a religious ceremony, it is conducted by a member of the clergy, such as a minister or priest. If a couple is marrying in a civil (nonreligious) ceremony, a judge or other authorized official performs it. Panamanian American weddings are not all that different than standard American weddings, particularly Latino ones. Many couples prefer a traditional religious ceremony, though some Panamanians depart from this custom. Some even write their own wedding service.

Baptisms When a child is ready for baptism, the parents first select the godparents. The godfather—the padrino—and godmother—the madrina—are often the same couple who served as best man and matron of honor at the parents' wedding. The parents bring the child to the church, where the priest confers the sacrament by putting his hand on the child and then anoints the child on the forehead with holy oil. The baptism is completed by sprinkling the child with holy water. It is customary to have a banquet after the baptism.

Funerals A death in the family is followed by a funeral. The funerary practices include public announcement of the death, preparation of the body, religious ceremonies or other services, a procession, a burial, and mourning. The body typically is washed, embalmed, and then dressed in special garments before being placed into a coffin. Many people hold an all-night watch called a velorio. The funeral may include prayers, hymns and other music, and speeches called elogio that recall and praise the dead person. Many funeral services take place at a funeral home with the embalmed body on display. After the funeral, the mourners return home with the bereaved family and share food.


Panamanian American households have achieved relative financial success, as their median incomes exceed those of Latin American immigrants as a whole. However, as of 1999, about 13 percent of Panamanian American families lived below the poverty line. Ten years later, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) estimates (2009–2011), that number had not changed. Nevertheless, the ACS also showed that the median household income for Panamanian Americans was $48,365 (compared with $51,484 for the general U.S. population). Panamanian Americans have experienced an increase in the number of businesses they own; this trend has increased especially in the past few decades. In 2000 Census statistics indicated that 3.6 percent of Panamanians were self-employed in their own business; by 2011 the figure had increased to 4.8 percent. An upward surge continuing this type of economic growth is expected to continue.

Panamanian Americans are active members in the nation's workforce. The ACS (2009–2011) reported that 35 percent of employed Panamanian Americans were in management, business, science and arts occupations, 23 percent were in service occupations, and 28 percent were in sales and office occupations.

A Panamanian presence is evident throughout all departments and agencies of the federal government, including the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Commerce and Labor, Panamanian Americans are also represented in the Interior, Defense, and State departments, as well as the White House. During the past two decades, Panamanian Americans and other Hispanics have been ambassadors to numerous Central and South American countries.


Panamanian Americans are quite aware that their increasing numbers translate to increased political influence, and they are exerting political power that reflects their growing numbers and economic influence. In addition, they are carefully identifying issues that bring a measure of political unity to their diverse population.

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Each Hispanic group has its own identity; nevertheless, they are finding that their commonalities provide them with a more effective political voice. In recent years Hispanic politicians have been rallying around points of commonality as their political involvement increases. Panamanian Americans have also made significant political contributions to U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Domestic issues such as civil rights, affirmative action, and bilingual education have often brought them together in a unified front.

Three million Panamanian and other Hispanic voters are concentrated in six states, which, when combined, account for 173 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a presidential election. This underscores the importance of Hispanics as a voting bloc, particularly in the Southwest. There has been a significant increase in registered Hispanic voters in recent years, and as more young Hispanics reach voting age, Hispanic strength as a political force will increase even more significantly. Hispanic political influence is directed by such organizations as the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Image, and many others.

Panamanian Americans have even employed their power as U.S. citizens to influence political events in their home country. Specifically, the National Conference of Panamanians in New York influenced the creation of the Carter-Torrijos Treaties (1977) that guaranteed that control of the canal would return to Panamanian jurisdiction.

Cultural ties between the two countries are strong, and many Panamanians come to the United States for higher education and advanced training. In cooperation with the U.S. government, many Panamanian Americans provide needed resources, training, and cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to fight illegal narcotics trafficking. In addition, Panamanian Americans have supported the renewal of democracy and stability in Panama and a fundamentally strong relationship with the United States, which had become severely strained by the Noriega regime during the late 1980s. Some Panamanian Americans are involved in developing business ventures in Panama. The practice of granting dual citizenship has also contributed to the political connections that Panamanians have sustained with their home country, even when they obtain U.S. citizenship. This practice has been in place since 1972, when the Republic of Panama adopted it.


Academia Kenneth Clark (1914–2005) moved to New York from Panama as a child and later became the first African American to earn a PhD from Columbia University. He was the first established

U.S. Army Specialist and Panamanian American Shoshana Johnson became the first female black American prisoner of war when she was taken prisoner during the war with Iraq. She was found by U.S. troops after the fall of Baghdad. Here she is being U.S. Army Specialist and Panamanian American Shoshana Johnson became the first female black American prisoner of war when she was taken prisoner during the war with Iraq. She was found by U.S. troops after the fall of Baghdad. Here she is being honored. STEFAN ZAKLIN / GETTY IMAGES

African American professor at the City College of New York and, with his wife, conducted numerous studies in racism, prejudice, and child development. Their now famous doll study provided empirical evidence for attorney Thurgood Marshall to successfully argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. the Board of Education (1954), which decision outlawed racial segregation in education.

Government Shoshana Johnson (1973–) moved to the United States as a child and served in the Army after her graduation from college. She became the first African American female prisoner of war (POW) on April 6, 2003, in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Because of her Panamanian ancestry, she is considered the first Latina POW as well.

Music Danilo Perez (1965–) came to the United States from Panama as a young adult. He is a renowned jazz musician and has founded and organized the Panama Jazz Festival. His accomplishments include numerous Grammys for his piano, composing, and conducting abilities.

Sports Famous Panamanian American jockeys include Braulio Baeza (1940–), Lafitte Pincay (1946–), Heliodoro Gustines (1940–), Jorge Velásquez (1946–), and Jacinto Vásquez (1944–). These jockeys have

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Panamanian American Rod Carew of the Milwaukee Brewers during Spring Training at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Arizona, 2001. Panamanian American Rod Carew of the Milwaukee Brewers during Spring Training at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Arizona, 2001. BRIAN BAHR / ALLSPORT / GETTY IMAGES

ridden at race tracks in Panama and at Belmont and Aqueduct in the United States.

Rod Carew (1945–) immigrated to the United States from Panama as a teenager and received a contract from Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins upon graduating from high school. After twelve years with that team and seven years with the California Angels, he retired and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.


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El Diario/La Prensa

Appearing Monday through Friday since 1913, this publication focuses on general news in Spanish.

Rossana Rosado, Publisher
1 Metrotech Center
18th Floor
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Phone: (212) 807-4600
Fax: (212) 807-4617

Mundo Hispanico

Founded in 1979 and published twice a month in Spanish with some English and distributed free or by subscription.

6455 Best Friend Road
Norcross, Georgia 30071
Phone: (404) 881-0441
Fax: (404) 881-6085


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ASPIRA Association

A grassroots organization that works to provide leadership development and educational assistance to Latino persons, thus advancing the Hispanic community.

Ronald Blackburn-Moreno, National Executive Director
1444 Eye Street NW
Suite 800
Washington, D.C. 20005-2210
Phone: (202) 835-3600
Fax: (202) 835-3613

Hispanic Institute at Columbia University

Hernán Díaz, Associate Director
612 West 116th Street
New York, New York 10027
Phone: (212) 854-8787
Fax: (212) 854-7509

Las Molas Association

Organizes events such as Panamanian holiday celebrations and contracts with local performers to present cultural dances.

P.O. Box 8295
Lacey, Washington 98509
Phone: (425) 264-6529

National Council of La Raza

A Pan-Hispanic organization founded in 1968 that provides assistance to local Hispanic groups, serves as an advocate for all Hispanic Americans, and is a national umbrella organization for eighty formal affiliates throughout the United States.

1126 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20002
Phone: (202) 785-1670

National Panamanian Friendship Reunion, Inc.

Organizes a gathering every July at various locations around the United States. It attracts Panamanians from across the United States and Panama.

P.O. Box 35873
Fayetteville, North Carolina 28303
Phone: (910) 904-0306


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Dolan, Edward F. Panama and the United States: Their Canal, Their Stormy Years. New York: Franklin Watts, 1990.

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Hartson, W. “Ten Things You Never Knew about Panama.” Express, December 12, 2007.

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Labrut, M. Getting to Know Panama. 2nd ed. El Dorado, Panama: Focus Publications, 1997.

Soley, L. Seales. The Culture and Customs of Panama. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009.

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Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300141