I walked into school not expecting much. Maybe I would co-teach an English lesson or do a dinamica with the students. When I walked into the doorway I was not prepared for what greeted me. “Felicidades! Tempe Felicidades!”, the children sang out. La Directora Rochelle, stood up and presented the students to me, She said, “Today is a celebration of Blackness and Meastra Tempest is Black.let us all honor her on this special day”. I was spellbound as hoards of children came up to give me a hug, kiss, and felicidadas para mi etina negra. You may wonder why on earth any would be celebrate Blackness in school…I did. Lol I was used to “Black History Month” but it usually about learning a Langston Hughes poem, a story about MLK, and maybe a play. It is never personal and it is about History. This celebration was about honoring people of African Decent presently and personally and I was very touched.
I was asked after being honored to present a lesson on “Blackness”…Which was quiet a challenge to do on the fly to a room full of children of various ages. I sat down and had the children sit in a circle around me. I taught them about some Ancient African Civilizations such as Kush, Kemet, and Timbuktu. I taught them that many of those people were stolen and put on boats to become slaves. From there I taught them about the African diaspora and the different places African slaves went to. Some came to the United States, while others went to Brazil, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and even Panama! The kids were spellbound. I gave a very short lesson of racism and the fight for civil rights in the U.S. culminating with the presidency of Barack Obama. All the children liked the U.S. President. After all that talking I asked the children if they had any Black people in their family. A very funny thing happened. The black children would not raise their hands but a nice number of the whiter skinned children did. Many of the Morenos in the circle did not want to self identify as Black. Which is something we can work on. After all this heavy talk it was time to have some fun! I broke out my computer and speakers and set up an exploration of “Black sound”. I played everything from Fela Kuti(The kids favorite), to Usher to Beyonce. The most touching moment came when I played freedom songs popular during the Civil Rights-Vietnam Era, most notably Curtis Mayfield. These children knew no English but his words touched the kids in a deep way. The children swayed and held hands when his song “Keep on pushin” played. I also gave dance lessons and taught the kids how to step. An Indingenous boy who has been pretty closed off to me thus far, opened up. He loved dancing with his hips and singing with a soul infliction. He would look at me, raise his hand in the air and sing along to the music like this “ oh ohhhh ohh ho ho yheaa”. It was great! We had an amazing day full of culture and the teachers were proud that I did all that without lesson plans lol I can’t wait to do more cultural activities in my town.
The day before my host Mom called me into her bedroom to watch the T.V. She pointed to the television and there I saw a see of faces, mostly black but some really light people as well. All were in African inspired garb and were parading down the street. “It is the celebration of Black ethnicity this month. Everybody in the City and Colon has big celebrations”. She told me this at the end of the month.. I thought that I had totally missed out on the celebrations only to be honored in school the very next day. As stated elsewhere in this blog, Panama has a sizable Black population. The strains of African culture can be found in the music, hairstyles, and to a lesser extent food of all Panamanians. During Etina Negra celebrations, people hold African themed bailes and parades. The people of all complexions put on crowns, head wraps, and other clothes associated with Pan African culture. I witnessed a popular daytime talk show have its host dress in African garb and dance to a steel band. There was one host who was a Black woman and the other host gave her hugs and thanks. It was such a strange but beautiful experience to witness other groups honoring a minority group. I would hope that they do the same for the Indigenous and Asian populations here as well.
Below is some footage of Etina Negra celebrations and a song by popular Afro Panamanian Aloe Blacc from California. I am editing footage of my children in dancing/singing action so look out for that as well.
Awkward Moment of the day: The Directora of the school gave a beautiful speech in honor of Etnia Negra by professing the natural athletic abilities of Black people. "Everybody is worth something and special. All of us. It does not matter if you are Black, White, Chino, or Indigenous. Black people are very special to Panama. They do so well in all the sports and help us win the big games! In the U.S.A. Guess who won a gold medal for the country? A Black person! That is why racism should end".. She said her speech without a trace of irony and was so sweet and earnest I couldn't take the least bit offense.