Silver People Memorial Day 2010

The words of Colonel George W. Goethals in 1907 before a gathering of visiting Congressmen- "I now consider that I am commanding the army of Panama and that the enemy we are going to combat is the Culebra Cut and the locks and dams at both ends of the Canal." In the image of Mount Hope Cemetery above we have physical evidence of the hundreds of Westindian workers who died during the construction of the Canal but, buried under the waters of the Canal are hundreds, perhaps thousands more, unnamed heroes.

For today’s United States Memorial Day observance we want to especially remember our Silver People Heritage. Furthermore, our prayers and our eternal voice and votes go towards envisioning a better future for all our future generation of descendants of the Westindian Diaspora of Silver People of the Republic of Panama.

Our central message here at the Silver People Heritage Foundation is that we are the people of the former Panama Canal Zone. It is incumbent upon us that we never forget that we are a special and historic people, a people whose roots run deep into the American and Panamanian Spirit since we as an ethnic group had a special part in forging the development of both countries, the Republic of Panama and the United States of America.

Our Silver People history still begs to be revealed both here at home in our “Mother Land” of Panama and in the United Sates where we’ve always been reminded that we had not been a part of the hordes of immigrants that graced the glorious “Ellis Island” of the Empire State of New York. However, at the time of those historic events at the gateway called Ellis Island our people here on the Isthmus of Panama was becoming the largest group of non-American federal employees outside of the Continental United States working for the glory of America.

I say working with special reverence because I’m reminded that our forefathers and mothers worked on the average of more than fifteen hours a day, from way before sun up to way after sun down and many survived into old age even though too many suddenly passed away in their sleep.

Even so, as a child I was the classic participant observer forever remembering those days of yesteryear when our Silver People and their descendants showed so much joy in adopting the American Spirit and traditions in celebrating the United States’ national holidays. In my first few years after immigrating to New York I was especially gratified to discover our descendants of the Westindian people of Panama organizing their yearly Memorial Day “Boat Ride” which became a beloved traditional excursion up the Hudson River. As for me, the Third of November was always my favorite holiday, a day in which the Panamanian flag flew above our heads more beautiful than any other in the old barrios of Panama and Colon.

We of the Silver community of Panama view this Memorial Day as an opportunity to honor our Silver ancestors and the legacy they have left us. The Silver People Law that we are promoting in Panama’s National Assembly has been dedicated with the intention of correcting the great oversight that has been dealt to our Westindian people of Panama. We keenly remember how the people of the colored community of the United States of America petitioned their legislators for a national holiday to commemorate the Venerable Martin Luther King Jr. which is celebrated yearly on the 3rd Monday in the month of January. With the passage of the Silver People Law it is our desire and intention for the National Assembly of Panama to designate a similar commemoration in honor of our own people whose historical and cultural footsteps have left an indelible mark on our nation.

The historic events in which our Silver People of Panama participated were not only for themselves but ultimately contributed towards a much broader vision, the vision of a world that would eventually know they where laboring for a Mother Land in which their descendants could enjoy the freedoms and economic development that future generations the world over would see largely due to their efforts in the region since the mid 19th century.

Although, traditionally, Memorial Day in America honors the war dead of the United States, we, as descendants of the Silver People here in Panama, raise our voices to heaven and to the exalted halls of earthly law to recognize the brave Westindian Silver laborers killed in the construction works of the Panama Canal whose remains were never recovered and make them the center of this Memorial Day.

We further entreat the “Fathers of our Mother Land” who sit in the Honorable Assembly, that they send a message in one accord, that our country the Republic of Panama does hear and respond to the cry of the Silver community of Panama and that they unanimously vote for the enactment of Law No 160 “That declares the Cemeteries at Silver Corozal, Gatún and Mount Hope or Monte Esperanza as national historic patrimonies of the Republic of Panama.” Such a bill of law is now in the Permanent Commission on Culture Education and Sports as of 19 April 2010.

We strongly urge our friends and supporters to write letters of support to our local legislators on behalf of our efforts.

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