Enter the post Panamax World

Today [June 26, 2016] marks a historic moment for Panama, for our hemisphere and the world.”

– Juan Carlos Varela, President of Panama

In this age of increased border policing and nationalism, nothing reminds us of global connectedness like oceans.  Also, I will take all opportunities to write about Panama.

Author disclaimer: I love Panama! My father is from there. My family lives there. I did my dissertation fieldwork there. The Smithsonian has a Tropical Research Institute there (STRI). It is constantly among the happiest countries in the world and frankly, it is beautiful!

The defining thing [about Panamanian identity] I would say is the Panama Canal … what else … that is all … we can’t even go any further!” – DC resident from Panama

In August 1914, the Panama Canal opened, revolutionizing global sea traffic. The Canal created a “path between the seas,” joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ships no longer had to travel all the way around South America. They could now pass through the 50 mile long Canal. Ships traveling the canal connect 160 countries and reach about 1,700 ports worldwide. To date, more than one million ships have passed through the Canal.

The politics and culture of the Panama Canal is a central element — literally and figuratively — of Panama’s national identity and on December 31, 1999 the U.S., who operated the Canal since 1914, turned over full control of the Panama Canal to Panama.

The last time I visited Panama was a research trip 2014 with ACM photographer Susana Raab to document the 100th anniversary of the Canal. During that trip, we visited the Canal expansion project on the Atlantic coast

August 2014 view of the Panama Canal expansion near the Locks of Gatun. These photographs were made for the upcoming Bridging the Americas exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

August 2014 view of the Panama Canal expansion near the Gatun Locks.  Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Susana Raab

We also took a partial transit through the Panama Canal. It is a marvel to watch ships being raised and lowered to pass through the locks system of the Canal.

 

Susana and me transiting the Panama Canal in August 2014 , documenting 100 years of the Panama Canal

Selfie! Susana (with camera) and me transiting the Panama Canal in August 2014

 

 

On June 26, 2016 , over a hundred years after the Panama Canal opened, the new locks at the Panama Canal were inaugurated. We are now living in a Post-Panamax or NeoPanamax maritime era! The expansion brought two new sets of locks, Cocolí on the Pacific coast near Panama City and Agua Clara on the Atlantic coast at Colon.

panama-canal-expansion.jpg moises castillo AP

Photograph by Moises Castillo from Associated Press

panama_canal_expansion-2.jpg moises castillo AP

Photograph by Moises Castillo from Associated Press

Photograph by Oscar Rivera EPA

Photograph by Oscar Rivera EPA

The size of the original canal made it difficult for high-volume Asian shipments to get to the East Coast of the U.S.  Post-Panamax ships can reach 1,200 feet long — more than three football fields — and are up to 160 feet wide. The expansion doubles the Canal’s capacity.

So while this feat is certainly worth celebrating, it has global ramification and human costs especially in the U.S.. Canal expansion has meant that ports like Savannah, New York, New Jersey, and Houston among others have invested billions in order to accommodate the larger ships that will pass through the new Canal.  Larger ships mean updating ports, and consequently increased road traffic, as more trucks will be needed to transport the increased number of goods.  In December of 2014, the Melissa Harris Perry Show discussed some of the environmental concerns of Canal Expansion in New Jersey.

 

In the coming month, years, and centuries we will all be witness to the Panama Canal’s continued influence on global trade for the U.S. and the world.

August 2014 - Boats wait at the opening of the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. These photographs were taken for the Bridging the Americas exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

August 2014 – Boats waiting on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.  Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by 
Susana Raab

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You can learn more about the Washington D.C.’s connection to Panama, the U.S. presence in Panama, and the Panama Canal in the exhibition Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington DC in the Anacostia Community Museum Program Room. The exhibition is up indefinitely.

Brown vs. Board of Education & its Latino connections

On this date in history 62 years ago today, the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS made school segregation unconstitutional.  This case transformed the lives not only of African-Americans, but was preceded and followed by justice for Black and Brown U.S. citizens around the world.  

Highlighting these connections takes nothing away from Black struggles for Civil Rights in the United States. On the contrary, the intent is to demonstrate that past, present, and future struggles for Civil Rights have never been for or by one group alone.

 

Mexican Segregation: Méndez et al vs. Westminster School District of Orange County California (1947)


Discrimination and segregation in the United States have never been strictly Black-White experiences. The discrimination against Mexican-Americans, especially on the west coast of the U.S. was rampant.

Image from WikiMedia Commons. Credit on website: National Civil Rights Museum Downtown Memphis, TN

Image from WikiMedia Commons. Credit on website: National Civil Rights Museum Downtown Memphis, TN

A case in California eight years before Brown set a necessary precedent for Brown vs the Board of Education: Méndez vs. Westminster .

In short, although no law legally segregated Mexican and Mexican American children (de jure), they were in fact segregated (de facto). In 1944, The Orange County school district told Gonzalo Méndez that his three children had to attend the “Mexican” school despite the fact that their lighter skinned cousins attended the white school.  Mendez and four other Mexican families took four Los Angeles-area school districts to court and won a class action lawsuit at the trial and appellate levels of the federal court system. (Click HERE to listen to Sylvia Méndez recall her experience as a child attending a Mexican School)

Understanding that legal decisions and civil rights transcend state, racial, and ethnic lines, Mendez’s counsel and support included: League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Jewish Congress, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Japanese American Citizens League.

When Thurgood Marshall represented Linda Brown in Brown vs. the Board of Education, he used  arguments from the Méndez case. The relevance — segregation based on color and origin — was clear.

That we are all individuals; that we are all human beings; that we are all connected together; and that we all have the same rights, the same freedom.” – Sylvia Mendez, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011

On September 14, 2007, in Santa Ana, California, issued 41-cent Mendez v. West­minster commemorative stamp designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland

On September 14, 2007, in Santa Ana, California, issued 41-cent Mendez v. West­minster commemorative stamp designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland

 

Brown vs the Board of Education reaches the Panama Canal Zone


We often think of U.S. law within the physical confines of the United States. But what about U.S. territories? Such was the case of the Panama Canal Zone.

The Panama Canal Zone was a U.S. territory from its creation in 1903 until the Panama Canal Treaties of 1977 mandated the Zone’s dissolution in 1979.  The United States was a racially segregated society. U.S. society at the time included the U.S. Panama Canal Zone, as the Zone was governed completely by U.S. laws. Segregation existed in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone.

Manuel Sandoval, DC resident, recalled the separated spaces existed along both race (“Black” and “white”) as well as citizenship (“Panamanian” and “American”) in Panama during his interview.

I never experienced discrimination; however, in the Canal Zone there was clear discrimination — Panamanian Blacks went to one place, Black Americans went to another, and White Americans had their own thing. – Manuel Sandoval

Black Mosaic Exhibition Records, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution

After the landmark decision of Brown vs. the Board of education, citizenship, not race, became the primary source of inequity in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone. Black and white U.S. citizens integrated. This law only applied to U.S. citizens.  Zonians (the term for people living in the Canal Zone) of Panamanian or West Indian citizenship remained segregated from U.S. citizens in school and housing, with some exceptions, such as the Canal Zone College. Latin American schools and thus Spanish language instruction replaced U.S. based school with English language instruction for non-U.S. citizens. This language change was especially problematic for West Indian children from English speaking islands, as many did not speak Spanish at home.  Between 1960 and 1970, Panama had the largest number and percentage of Central American immigrants to the U.S.   The change in language of educational instruction in Canal Zone schools was certainly a factor.

 

Brown vs. Board of Education, Panama, and the Doll Tests


Although raised in New York, Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Dr. Clark was the first Black Ph.D. recipient from Columbia University, the first Black president of the American Psychological Association and the first tenured Black professor at the City University of New York.

Kenneth Bancroft Clark by Burton Phillip Silverman. Charcoal on paper (1982) Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Burton Silverman

Kenneth Bancroft Clark by Burton Phillip Silverman. Charcoal on paper (1982)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Burton Silverman

Dr. Clark is best known for his psychology experiments colloquially known as “doll tests.” He and his wife, Dr. Mamie Clark used four dolls, identical except for their color, to test kids’ racial perceptions. Children ages 3-7 were asked to identify the dolls and express preference. The majority of the children preferred the white doll, assigning positive characteristics to it and negative characteristics to the darker doll, deemed undesirable.

These tests were prominently cited in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas as evidence of the psychological effects of racial segregation on Black children’s self-esteem. It was one of the first times social science research was used in legal proceedings (Méndez vs. Westminster also drew on social science research). Less cited conclusions from the Drs. Clark’s “doll tests” included that racism is an inherently American institution and that school segregation also hindered the development of white children. Given the news that U.S. schools are re-segregating, these lessons are more important than ever.

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More about the Washington D.C.’s connection to Panama, the Panama Canal Zone, and this story of Kenneth Bancroft Clark can be seen in the exhibition Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington DC in the Anacostia Community Museum Program Room. It is up indefinitely.

Latino-centered struggles for Civil Rights and Social Justice will be part of the upcoming exhibition Gateways. Opening December 2016,  Gateways explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

How do we measure the social value of our work?

From April 26-29 I, and thousands of museum workers, attended the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme of this year’s conference was: The social value of museums: Inspiring change.

I attended many insightful sessions about immigration, telling American Stories, museums as conveners, museums as sites of activism, and measuring/evaluating social change. Of the many things I left pondering, one of the most significant is: How do or how should I measure the social value and impact of MY work activity?

In a session addressing museum evaluation, Deborah Schwartz of the Brooklyn Historical Society invited us all to

Engage. LISTEN. Exchange

I have been sitting with this advice for almost two weeks now, still wondering how one measures this.   In order to think about the social value and impact of our work activity, we must look at HOW we work and not just WHAT work we do. A better question than measure might be: how to do we know if we are being successful in engaging, listening and exchanging?

I don’t have a complete answer yet, but:

1. People now tell me about any Panamanian in their life. I find this amusing and wonderful.  I love that those around me feel comfortable talking to me.  These declarations of Panamanian association usually lead to questions about food, music, immigration, language. Really though, the conversations can lead through any number of interactive activities. Engagement, listening, and exchange.

2. I have noted that about 10 people have emailed me about the premier of the Panama Canal Stories/ Historias del Canal at the Inter-American Development Bank tonight. Some asked if I am going. Some emailed just as an FYI in case I hadn’t seen it. Some knew I would be there and asked if I wanted to meet.   Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C.  may be a small show, but the community participation and exchange of ideas have created a network well beyond the exhibition’s square footage.

Forwarding an email message may seem like a trivial act not worthy of note or measure. I disagree.

We all know how easy it is to delete emails, read or unread.  The fact that people not only thought of me when they heard of this film and read their email message, but further, took the extra minute to send me the information knowing I would be receptive gives me hope.   I am helping create an engaged network concerned not only with her/his own activity but also the knowledge and activity of US.  While I am not yet certain how to measure  or report my impact or activity, the social value of my work is exponentially increased by engaging with, listening to, and exchanging with the communities I serve, in big and small ways.  

Community and Belonging: Bridging the Americas

 

Community



It is a word we use often. It is in our museum name: Anacostia Community Museum.  So how does this new exhibit tie into what we do here in Anacostia? Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C.  presents stories from diverse DC area residents — many of Panamanian descent, some from the Panama Canal Zone —  and asks you directly to think about your community and where you feel you belong.

Despite its small population, Panama had the largest percentage and number of Central American immigrants to the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, the Panamanian community in the Washington, D.C., area began to flourish. International work, federal employment, and the plethora of cultural activities are major reasons why Panamanians continue to make the D.C. metro “home.”  Image courtesy of Winston “Alex” Taylor

Despite its small population, Panama had the largest percentage and number of Central American immigrants to the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, the Panamanian community in the Washington, D.C., area began to flourish. International work, federal employment, and the plethora of cultural activities are major reasons why Panamanians continue to make the D.C. metro “home.” Image courtesy of Winston “Alex” Taylor

 

One of the truest lines in the exhibition, in my humble curatorial opinion, is: “emotional connection is much more important than a legal one. Anyone who feels they belong probably does.”  The underlying themes of this show are human diversity and connections.    The spaces in which we reside are multiple… and connected!

The show holds a lot of information.  When you walk through the exhibition, you are hearing DC stories. But they are also national stories and international stories.  It is up indefinitely and I very much look forward to elaborating on themes, events, and stories through our public programming.

So what do we want people to take away from this exhibition?

  • Acknowledgement that people carry multiple identities always
  • Appreciation for diversity in Panama, the U.S. , and the DC metro area.
  • Understanding of important events that have created a profound relationship between the nations of Panama and the U.S.
  • Awareness of the Panama Canal Zone and the complexity of place based “Zonian” identity
  • Recognition that the Panamanian population in the D.C. area has a strong history and presence
  • Thoughtfulness about their own communities and reflective responses to the exhibition’s reflection questions on our public response wall.

 

  • One proud respondent on our community wall!

    One proud respondent on our community wall!

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