By now you feel like you know me a bit don’t you? You know about my cougar love affair, you know about the decrepit housing project we lived in together in Panama, but do you know the real reasons that prompted our journey to central America? I have to admit that before the year 2009 I had no idea what a Panamanian person looked like, thats not to say that I didn’t know plenty of Panamanians, I just didn’t know anything about where they came from.
The first time I realized I was talking to a Panamanian person, was at work. She was an interesting person, with a great sense of humor. Interestingly enough during the short time that I met her I was watching a program on the US invasion of Panama, something that happened when I was but a newborn, nonetheless I never heard of this event and the unjustified violence and brute force used on the Panamanian people. The woman that I worked with was unmistakably black and her accent was so caribbean I swore that she was Jamaican or something, but then i heard her speaking in spanish. Now it wasn’t the first time I heard a black person speaking spanish. I’d known some black Dominicans, but the fact that she spoke in a Caribbean style intrigued me. I asked her where she was from and she said Panama. Wouldn’t you know that after meeting her I would run into countless Panamanians who all were full of pride for their home country.
Going back even further, I knew mc enigma most of my life. Probably since we were about seven. We went to different elementary schools in Plainfield but he actually went to the same school as my cousin. I would always see him when I went with my grandmother to pick my cousin up from the after school program. It was actually in middle school when we started putting raps together. mc enigma graduated from NJCU and got a job working at Yale as a Union organizer in Connecticut, and I stayed in Plainfield working and was still in school and trying to make my way. The year was 2010 and it was getting crazy in Plainfield New Jersey. In this small city of about 45,000 or so there were several murders and I started to notice a growing trend of blacks and latinos killing each other. Once mc enigma found out about the murders he decided to come back to Plainfield, and we lent our time working for the Plainfield chapter of the Newark based People’s Organization for Progress(POP). After the notable murder of a teenager in the city we both canvased the neighborhood where the crime happened to talk to the people and realized that the majority of the neighborhood didn’t speak any english. Our message was useless if the people couldn’t hear it. We wanted to be able to reach everyone in the community and ease the tension and fear. With that same mentality, we began to think; “Hey, if we can learn spanish we would be able to make the same type of classic music that we make in english and be able to grab a way larger fan base than otherwise.” Imagine when we learn other languages as well, we will be unstoppable. The idea for Negros Americanos was now born.
Now the question was, “how were we going to move to a spanish speaking country?” Panama was preferred because of the large population of black people. We knew that we would be able to maneuver there easier than other latin american countries that have as much of an economic boom as Panama was and is still having. So how were we going to afford it? We started to research how to live and work in a foreign country on google and learned that teaching english was the best route to go about. We saved up money and paid for courses for certification in teaching english, thinking that after taking the 3 month program we would be placed with a job. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We were told that we had to buy our plane ticket and physically travel to the country to look for a job. When I heard just how difficult it would be for me to find work, as I would be judged as a drug addicted Rasta because of my hair, I almost gave up on the dream. I didn’t want to starve out there. Once we got the certification, we bought a one-way ticket to Panama and we met another Panamanian woman in New Jersey, who would become our Aunt. She was so excited that we were going to move to her country that she told us we could move in with her sister for a few months to get ourselves together. We waited until the 5th of January 2011 and then we hopped on a plane to Panama City, Panama.
I was so excited to be out of the country and to be starting this new life, the goal was to absorb everything we possibly could, especially the language. As soon as we stepped out into the airport I realized that the “physical” quality of women in this country was unbelievable. I had learned that the best way to learn a language would be to find a significant other that doesn’t speak your same language. It forces you to learn in a more natural way. With that said, we treated the female hunt with the same passion we took on the job hunt. Trying to talk to every woman that I could possibly run into with my 5 word spanish, sticking my chest out as if my American-ness would give me access to all of these thick brown women. After reading several blogs on Panamanian women, I thought it would be easier, but I didn’t take into account that those blogs were written by white men, and the results would be a tad different for me.
Our adventure began in the neighborhood of Nueva Concepción, Panama, a humble neighborhood where you really feel a sense of community. The family we lived with was very black and proud, so when I hung out in the street I was in awe at the amount of black women with white or cholo (panamanian word for indigenous mixed with spaniard) men. I also noticed that some (not all of course) of the black Panamanian women that I tried to talk to would look me right in my face and then look ahead as if I didn’t even exist. One time I noticed that happen with me, but then when a fellow white American tourist tried to talk to her and she broke her neck to make sure that he was responded to. I was in shock. I started to learn about the “mejorar la raza” phrase that some women have adopted. It hurt me so to know that many of these women were not with these men initially because of love, rather because of self-hatred and the desire to have ‘pretty’ children who hadn’t been cursed with the same sun absorbing skin tone. At that point we made a conscious decision to promote black pride everywhere we went.
We couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. There was a water shortage in the country in the first couple months of 2011. We ended up taking bucket showers and using water from buckets to cook. Every day a truck would come around midday with water tanks and fill up our buckets. We had to conserve the water though and not use too much for bathing as it was a family of 6 or 7 including us and the same water had to be used for cooking, needless to say in a country so hot I began to learn how to caress my body with powder every morning. After the second month, the water started to come back. Now we could concentrate on trying to find out where all the hip hop events were and how to collaborate with other artists. That is the story that will be told in the next blog post.