Aug 8, 2009 1:43 PM | 2
There was a great deal of drumming and trumpeting behind the library this lunchtime. I grabbed the division's big old digital camera and followed the music through the back door to its source in Mount Prospect Park, right behind the library. The park was filled with the food and sounds of the the Panamanian Festival. Not one but several marching bands, some in splendid white regalia, were parading around the circular path. (Evidently the marching bands are quite active, because I soon found video footage of a similar group.) Skirting the colorful food stands I managed to take a couple of photographs before running back to work.
Crown Heights and Flatbush are well known as centers of Caribbean population, but there is less awareness of the Panamanian presence. Many of Brooklyn's Panamanians are descendents of the construction workers who went to Panama from Jamaica, Barbados and other Caribbean islands to work on the massive canal project that started in 1904 and lasted 10 years. Writer Veronica Chambers, the daughter of Panamanians in Brooklyn, has described the experience of growing up a "secret Latina" as she calls it.
The Brooklyn Collection has clipping files on many immigrant groups, and Panamanian Americans figure on the list, although it must be admitted that the file is quite slim. In a 1996 Daily News article one member of a Panamanian community group, the Panama Canal International Alumni Association, said "We are very dedicated to keeping up our Panamanian-West Indian heritage. To do it, we have to reach into the community and help others to keep the legacy alive." Thirteen years on, if the festival out there is anything to go by, the legacy in Brooklyn is going strong.