Tag Archives: Panama

Western Privilege and Anti-black Racism in Panama

By Guest Contributor Aliyya Swaby

Residents of Colón, Panama, have been fighting to get the government to renovate their dilapidated colonial-era buildings, with little success. Images by the author.

In late September, I moved from New York City to Panama City to start a freelance journalism project. For two college summers, I had traveled in Latin American countries and did not see many people who looked like me.

In Ecuador, a friend told me I seemed more “French” than “Ecuadorean” black, because I wasn’t too aggressive. As I walked around Peru’s inland cities, men called out “Chincha,” the name of the predominately black coastal city.

I thought I would feel more comfortable in Panama, where the skin color gradient includes darker shades of brown. After all, my West Indian immigrant parents belong to the same diaspora as many Panamanian black people, whose ancestors were imported by the U.S. government as laborers on the Panama Canal.

But the reality is more complex. I recently found blogger BlackinAsia’s posts on being a black Westerner abroad, and immediately zeroed in on this quotation: “We inhabit a liminal space which is difficult to dissect, but that’s why a more nuanced analysis is necessary — with “Westernness” bestowing on us some privileges abroad (e.g. diplomatic immunity) rooted in the global power of our countries or origin, but our “blackness” leading to our oppression due to anti-black sentiments. We encounter and live both while abroad as black Westerners.”

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Salsa and Sexism: Are You Mouthing Misogyny?

By Guest Contributor Rachael Kay Albers, cross-posted from Latina Fatale

It is after midnight and I’m in a taxi on the way back to my barrio, mouthing the lyrics to a song on the radio that I’m proud to know the lyrics of when, suddenly, I stop (fake) singing. Spanish is my second language and memorizing song lyrics doesn’t come as easily to me as it does in English—if I can successfully sing along to a song in a café or on the radio, I wave the useless ability like a flag. But, as I silently croon in my cab tonight, I realize that, in my quest to hone my dual language lip syncing abilities, I have paid absolutely zero attention to the content of the lyrics I’m not singing.

The song on my cabbie’s radio is “Lamento Boliviano,” (Bolivian Lament). You may know it for its famous chorus:

Y yo estoy aquí
borracho y loco
y mi corazón idiota
siempre brillará
y yo te amaré
te amaré por siempre

(And I am here
drunk and crazy
and my stupid heart
will always shine
and I will love you
I will love you forever)

As I listen carefully to the lyrics, I imagine the scene being described: a drunk, desperate man declaring his undying love to his wronged mujer after saying, in earlier lyrics, that he feels there is a volcano of rage inside of him. I have lived this scene. The drunk, desperate man “in love” is not nearly as romantic as the Enanitos Verdes — the Argentinean rock band that croons “Lamento Boliviano” — make him seem. He can be, in fact, quite dangerous, especially when he says he has an, um, “volcano” inside of him.

Ugh — sexist lyrics glamorizing alcoholism and violence in Spanish, too? I think, dumbly. How has the thought never occurred to me before? I mean, what did I expect from the music that just happened to be playing the many times I have been fondled or — I’ll just say it — humped on various dance floors across Mexico? Hip hop gets the rap in the United States for violent, misogynistic lyrics with country music coming in at second place—both deservingly. But, what about the music I’m listening to in Latin America?
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