Gentrification in the Old City, Panama and Xenophobia towards other Latinx Communities.

Months ago I thought it would be useful to write about what it’s like to stay in Panama City. I started and never got around it until I was recently asked if it is worth taking a trip to Panama. Now, I am back in this document finally finishing up my original post, on gentrification in the old city and what I learned during our time in Panama.

Staying in Panama City was different, I enjoyed the city as much as I could, but being the nature geek that I am, I found myself traveling endless hours across Panama. While some will say there is nothing to see or do in Panama City, if you are enlightened by learning about people of color, indigenous communities, and learning about the infrastructure and increase in property development and investments then Panama City will intrigue you.

Alex, our tour guide from @Xplora gave us so much information regarding Panama and was knowledgeable about different communities and their struggles. We touched on topics like gentrification, displacement, and immigration. My conversation with Alex allowed me to visualize the differences between living in the city, rural areas, and gentrified communities.

I also learned that Panama City and its surrounding areas are undergoing gentrification which has affected many Panamanians. I quickly remembered that gentrification fails in all countries and it is unfortunate that those who are underrepresented and of color are the community strongly affected by it. Over the years we have learned that gentrification is not “for the people”, it’s a way for the elite class and our oppressors to have control over our communities and displace the underrepresented. When gentrification occurs in places like Panama City most of the local community is displaced to rural locations where it can take more than one hour to commute to work in the city.

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Photo by Google

So where can you see Gentrification in Panama? Neighborhoods like Casco Viejo (the old city) were known to be owned by the local community. About a decade ago, Casco Viejo was considered unsafe. It was once known to be a dark community with a strong gang presence. Over years tourists were told to avoid walking to Casco Viejo due to high crime, flights, and drug abuse. Today, it is different. I felt “safe” and didn’t feel that I was in “danger”. It is know gentrified and the home of a new artistic style and where most rooftop bars and restaurants are located. In recent years the old city has blossomed and it’s considered a new “artistic colonial community” that has brought attention to many tourists and Panamanian artists.

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Some tips before going to Panama: Immigration in Panama is a big thing. You would be told to carry your passport at all times in case you are enforced by government officials to present documentation. Thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing economic injustice and are flooding other countries like Colombia, Panmana, Brazil, and Ecuador. I learned that in Panama there is a high level of Xenophobia towards Venezuelans. On my trip I heard a few locals make inappropriate comments towards Venezuelan women calling them prostitutes. Like undocumented Mexicans and other Latinx communities in the U.S, Venezuelans are being pushed out, marginalized, facing xenophobia not only in Panama, but in South America as a whole. While carrying your passport at all times is a must, knowing the reasons behind this touches my heart and I am in deep sorrow — to know that members of the Latinx community (MY COMMUNITY) cannot find peace, work, and live in countries that should stand strong in solidarity with the Hispanic and Latinx community is overwhelming and very heart breaking.

Resources: Read: Venezuelans face new barriers, Xenophobia across South America

Panama City and Free Itinerary Download!

I booked my trip to Panama through Expedia and I found the most affordable package with Copa Airlines. Copa Airlines is a Panamanian airline, the process from web check-in, choosing my seats, and skipping long lines was seamless. I was extremely impressed! I was also very surprised that I didn’t panic like I normally do during take-off and landing (yes, I fear flying, especially on long flights). The flight was smooth and I felt very comfortable and safe (major key, safety is a plus)! I landed at Tocumen International Airport and was truly astounded by how advanced the airport was. Our package also included our stay in Sortis Hotel & Casino in Panama City. Check out my review here! The total package for 6 days started at $890, not including taxes & fees.

I normally book package deals for short trips, especially when I travel in groups. Recently I learned Expedia has a rewards program and members can earn up to 2 points per dollar on flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages. I have already booked a few trips with Expedia and learned I had roughly $90 in points sitting on the backend of the site, via their points system I was able to book our transfer from the airport and hotel at no additional cost! As we drove to our hotel we were very astonished by the cities architecture and buildings, all of that was great, but what we were most excited about was starting our trip and experiencing some of the REAL Panama!

San Blas Islands

ea4d36_d85888acabd4483b8b9bf68119feede5~mv2San Blas is known to have more than 300 islands and caves and approximately 50 islands are inhabited. The residents of the islands are the Kuna People. Kuna’s are self-governed and this aspect allows you to notably see the different cultures and structures between the Panamanian government and the indigenous people. In Panama, it is important to bring your passport everywhere which I will discuss more in a later post, however, Kuna’s are very territorial and crossing to different parts of the Island can be difficult unless booked through their own self-governed routes which includes taxes. Regardless of that, I admired the scenic beaches, soft sand, and local food. Our visit included food at Iguana Island and a natural pool stop.

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Emberá’s

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Located in Panama and Colombia the Emberá’s, also known in historical literature as the Chocó or Katío Indians are an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. We took roughly two hours to reach the Emberá Dura village. One hour by land, and another by canoe (boat). The experience was one I will never forget. I learned about what the Emberá men and women do for a living and in their community, the importance of La Botanica (natural health remedies for illness and death), ate, and shared dances with their community. When I learned more about their botanical and natural health remedies I couldn’t stop thinking about how natural health remedies for many illnesses are so embedded in the Latinx and Afro Latin culture. Till this day my mother can name mostly all the natural leaves and its remedies which comes from the history of our ancestors, santeria, and the famous medicine man in many of our communities who was known to be the traditional healer in a community of indigenous people.

It is important to know that science at times does not have all the answer. Our ancestors knew that.

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We also hiked until reaching an unmanned waterfall. I decided to take a hike in Panama because I never did it before and wanted to test my strength and endurance. I also read Panama has one of the most biodiverse national parks with a wide array of animals so I decided to get out of my comfort zone and get down and dirty! While I was concerned about my safety this was one of the biggest hikes of my life, I made sure to be organized and brought all the necessary items needed which gave me a lot of security.

You can do it!

Casco Viejo, San Felipe

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On our last full day, we decided to explore the town of Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo, San Felipe is considered the old city. Colonizers settled in Casco Viejo in the 1600s and later it was destroyed by pirates. For many years Casco Viejo was known to be a community for the people of Panama and businesses were owned by locals who lived in the community. Now the city is known to be a tourist location full of rooftop bars viewing Panama city, and restaurants, while its ruins are the main attraction. Many Panamanians who lived in Casco Viejo were displaced by the gentrification of Casco Viejo.

You will never be disappointed in starting your adventure in Panama.