If I stop to think about it seriously, I would probably come back again and again to the same feature: diversity.
This simple word, more than any complicated concept defines Panama. Diversity plus being a happy – non violent country is what makes us so special. Everything else traces back to those two/three things.
Natural and geographic diversity. Diversity of races, cultures, languages, there is no single Panamanian in the entire country that doesn’t have inside his veins blood samples from all around the world. Not even the indigenous cultures are 100% originally from Panama, since studies already tell us they all came from either the north or the south. According to research done by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama was the last piece to emerge in Central America, joinning the two continents for the good of all human kind (not an exaggeration, research appoints that it was this barrier that allowed Europe to have warm waters and to develop). So the first group of people to show up came 11,000 years ago. Meaning.. no one is really from here… but all our ancestors came motivated by either beauty, convenience or business (or combinations of all three) which are just about the best reasons to come to a country and make it happen.
Everything in a Panamanian screams diversity: we eat “saus”, fried fish with patacones (with ajichombo sauce, very Caribbean food), almojábanos (spanish food), tortillas and chicheme (indigenous food). We dance salsa and reggae (again, caribbean culture) and when we are tired there is nothing better than a hammock (which is an indigenous tradition that the spanish reported as “evil” back in the colonial days because it promoted “laziness”). Any kid in the street has innate rhythm that can turn any plastic tank into a display of drums that make your heart beat. Our folkloric music includes both violin and drums and our folkloric dresses are influenced by both Europe and Africa. The list goes on and on.
Also that’s the reason why Casco Antiguo is such a special place: it was and continues to be the witness of all that mix, each home in a different architectural style (French, Republican, Spanish, Caribbean… even Chinese!), and it’s the main reason why UNESCO decided to protect it: very few historic cities are such a great showpiece for a country’s true identity.
So let’s toast not only to Panama’s 104 years of republican diversity, but also to the more than 11,000 years of cultural mix, and to the at least 3.5 million years of keeping the great American continent together.
Happy Birthday Panama!