Rass Not Spoken Here!

Making light of the scramble for the Metro of Panama money.

Making light of the scramble for the Metro of Panama money.

1.West Indian term referring to the behind.
2.Can also be a word used to enhance any sentence.
3.Used when angry
urban dictionary

A short while ago, not only I but a roomful of visitors to the University of Panama received a cold and rather unfriendly “welcome” to a poetry recital of sorts in which I had been invited to participate. I was summarily cut off from my recitation of a poem I composed using the English of my grandfathers. What followed was a litany of “Spanish Only” poetic voices, much to my outrage and chagrin. Even our audience, full of distinguished people from all parts of the Caribbean and the U.S.A. were sternly put wise that they were in a Spanish speaking country and being hosted by a monolingual university. At least, that was how we were made to feel. I could not hang around and listen to the rest of the hypocritical blah, blah that followed.

I got the message! Rass is not spoken here! Not only Rass but the peculiar English dialect of those upright men and woman of dark skin who forged ahead and came to Panama to carve out a life for themselves and their families while they carved out a monumental waterway for the world.

Those of you who are offended by the word Rass will have to forgive me but my point goes a little deeper than taking offense at a slang word. In my untiring attempt to highlight and honor the glorious exploits of my British West Indian forefathers (in this I include my beloved French speaking West Indian brothers) I have encountered many reactions here in Panama, especially from my own West Indian community. Many people have been supportive of our efforts to vindicate and preserve the culture and language of our ancestors. But, a few folks have been quite hostile, almost hateful, towards any endeavor to recognize the English spoken by our admirable forebears. Nowhere else have I encountered such an adverse reaction, however, as from the academic community of Panama, especially among its West Indian faculty members and administrative staff. I seriously ask myself if we aren’t our worse enemies when trying to pass down to our descendants a more estimable legacy which our English speaking ancestors have left us.

The English of our forefathers served them well in most aspects of their sojourn here on the Isthmus of Panama. After all, it was one of the primary reasons that the French as well as the Americans readily hired them for the spectacular construction projects they had envisioned. The Jamaican and Barbadian schoolmasters also contributed to the building up of Panama’s bilingual education by setting down standards of teaching that are exemplary even today.

Recently, in fact, our new president, Juan Carlos Varela, attended the CARICOM Summit as a special invitee and he gave a very impressive address in which he elaborated on how his government would seek to forge stronger commercial and cultural ties between our country and the members countries of the Caribbean basin.

Tras haber visitado el campus de Cave Hill de la Universidad de las Indias Occidentales en el día de ayer deseo anunciar que a partir del próximo año, docentes y estudiantes panameños viajarán a Barbados para aprender Inglés como segundo idioma como parte del Programa Panamá Bilingüe, una iniciativa del Gobierno destinada a formar 10 mil docentes durante los próximos 4 años para establecer una educación bilingüe en todas las escuelas de nuestro país.
También quiero anunciar que el Gobierno de Panamá ofrecerá becas para que estudiantes Panameños viajen a Barbados y a Jamaica a estudiar el idioma Inglés y cursar programas académicos en materia de Turismo.

We echo President Varela’s words in recognition of the efforts of our forefathers:

…con las que además de compartir las hermosas aguas del Caribe, los panameños también tenemos una historia común que data de los tiempos de la construcción del Ferrocarril Transístmico y de nuestro Canal Interoceánico.
Gracias al trabajo arduo y al sacrificio de decenas de miles de hermanos barbadenses, jamaiquinos y de otros Estados caribeños, quienes se trasladaron a Panamá entre mediados del siglo 19 y principios del siglo 20, hicimos realidad la construcción de estas grandes obras que marcaron un antes y un después en la historia del mundo y de nuestras naciones.

We also see in this statesman’s gesture a reinterpretation of the importance of preserving the language of our forefathers and even teaching it in the public and private schools and universities as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of all Panamanian children.
Never again shall our grandparents’ English be slighted with insult and denigration but held up in the light of a new understanding.

4 responses to “Rass Not Spoken Here!

  1. Right on “pasiero”. And consider how valuable our bilingual background has served those of us who immigrated to the USA to continue our education.


    • Good to hear from you too! I can’t tell you how many times in life I’ve been benefitted by my ability to speak English and Spanish. I only wish I could learn several more languages.


  2. Sorry, I always thought “rass” was a term of endearment?? As in Razz Mon, (I hope this comment does not offend anyone)? Love the accent, one visit to Panama I attended church at St. Luke’s in Ancon & the lady priest had what I called a Baygan (spelling) accent, she said “no, I’m from Jamaica not Barbados” so now I call it “Caribbean accent”, love to hear it & when not in Panama it make me feel at home. Saludos amigos de Panamá.


    • Hi Louis! Good to see you here as always. Rass, for me, is also a term of endearment and, I agree with you, when I wasn’t in Panama it made me feel like I was back home. I remember back when I was a fresh recruit in the Air Force and got sent to Japan, I happened to meet up with a Zonian boy whom I hadn-t seen since my boyhood when I used to visit my grandparents in Paraiso. He had just joined the Air Force as well and we were overjoyed to recognize each other.

      He made a pact with me, as he termed it, “Hey Reid, let’s cuss Rass every time we meet up with each other.” I knew in my heart that the word Rass helped us keep our identity as West Indian Panamanians and it brought back our happy days as children. Every time we’d see each other we’d shout, “Brada, you Rass you!” The other black boys were confounded and they would ask us, “What kinda language are you guys speaking?”


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