Just past a stately church in Casco Viejo Panama City I found a man standing next to a dragon. His name was Chris.
Chris works for a place called Diablicos, a restaurant which specializes in traditional Panamanian food. I think his job is to advertise the menu to the passing tourists and staff at the nearby government ministries. But Chris seems more interested in being a friendly human. Chris can be low key, with the man-dragon doing all the attention grabbing. Chris tells me that the “African people” from places like Jamaica and Haiti came to Panama in early 20th century to dig the canal, and they brought their traditions with them. The masks like the dragon were part of that exchange. Inside the restaurant are more masks, little monsters and wildly painted toy buses. In these vibrant expressions of color, I see the common cultural thread of the african diaspora which runs through the new world. I see Marti Gras, I see Carnaval, I search for candomblé and I hear jazz.
Chris himself was an immigrant who came to Panama in search of better fortunes as the people of the West Indies had before him. “In Venezuela I worked in petro chemicals, I made $50 a month. Here I make $1000,” he told me. He tells me that he’s in Panama alone, but he sends money home every month. I asked him if things were as bad as they say they are in Venezuela. He tells me that things are worse before sweeping me inside. He wants to show me more masks, not talk about a life he left behind.
Chris + Dragon by Akil Steamship is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.