The College of Saint Rose and UDELAS in Panama

A partnership about education, culture and the exchange of ideas

A Little Social Studies Lesson about Panama

CHRISTINA ZONTINI

The economic and political aspects are important to know in order to understand why people in Panama act and think the way they do. I had the privilege of talking to different people who explained the different aspects of society. I learned a lot from observing the culture, but also from talking to many individuals about their personal experiences.

One day, earlier on our trip, we met this man Evan Claire. He grew up in Panama, but studied in the United States for college. He began to talk to us, asking us questions about our experience thus far in Panama. We decided to be honest with him and explain that many Panamanians were not taking kindly to us Americans. Evan Claire chuckled and shook his head. We asked him to explain to us why these people felt disdain towards us. He explained to me that many older people, like himself, experienced a time of fighting and problems. He helped me to understand that in 1989 the United States came into Panama to help get rid of Noriega, but in the process also made their own trouble. He explained that the United States soldiers would shoot random Panamanians. Although I did not hear or ever read about this, this is what he explained to me as being one of the reasons. I was surprised to hear about the situation. I listened intently and then thought to myself, ‘Boy, I wish I paid attention in social studies class.’ After explaining this situation we all had a bit more of understanding. Evan also explained that there are many retired Americans living in panama who have been there for more than ten years, and yet they still do not know how to speak Spanish. The people in Panama get upset that these people are not even trying to learn the language.

I am sure that these are not all the reasons why Americans are treated differently in Panama. I was glad that Evan gave us some information that would help us for the rest of our trip. Talking to him made me understand the situation and also be more accepting of the culture. These are just a few situations that have affected the political situation in Panama and with the United States.

El Puente de las Americas (The Americas Bridge)

The politics are not the only thing that affects the society. The economic situation also has a huge impact on the people and society. Throughout the city, there is construction everywhere. Every other building is being worked on. Construction has now become a huge job market in Panama City. Another place that new construction is beginning is the canal and the Americas Bridge. After talking to Roberto, he informed me that the workers on the bridge are making a ridiculously small amount of money. They are repairing this bridge as well as painting it. Robert explained to me that the normal workers are receiving close to $3.00 an hour. Ridiculous right? Well, if the worker is risking his life and doing a severely dangerous part he gets paid closer to $4.00 an hour. Great raise right? I was shocked that these men are risking their lives to make just make a couple of bucks an hour. Roberto explained to me that these three or four dollars is what makes families survive. This is what leads to gap between the rich and the poor.

Me and Juana

Another aspect to take into account is that many of these poorer families have a lot of children of whom they need to take care. The women in poorer families get pregnant at a young age and then it is almost expected that she get married. I was talking to a student at UDELAS, Juana, who explained that these girls are having more and more children, yet they cannot afford to take care of all them. She was telling me that this creates this vicious circle because the women in a lower class have more children, who they cannot afford to take care of, which causes them to become poorer. It was extremely interesting to hear about this situation, because you would almost think the opposite: the richer people having more children than the lower classes.

There are so many political and economic aspects that play such a huge role in Panama. I learned so much from the interviews and I wish I knew a lot of this information before I went. I think by understanding how the Panamanians live and this information I would have felt more comfortable in the country. However, I am so thankful for this learning experience.

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