Panama Chinese Heritage

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Panama welcomed its first Chinese immigrants 169 years ago, and today boasts one of the highest proportions of ethnic Chinese in Latin America.

Israel Zangwill’s classic play, The Melting Pot, from 1908 was an idealistic depiction and celebration of cultural coexistence.

But the concept of melting pot has come under scrutiny in the United States, particularly.


Panama’s position between North and South America and history as a trading port have given it a distinct culture. Although 77% of Panamanians identify as Roman Catholic, visitors will discover a wide variety of religions being practiced and religious festivals celebrated across the country; Panama City alone hosts synagogues, mosques, Greek Orthodox churches, Hindu temples and a Baha’i house of worship!

Panama is an extraordinary cultural melting pot, composed of people from various nations who have come to settle here from all corners of the world. This diversity has contributed greatly to Panama’s success and continues to attract people who visit it from across the globe.

The Chinese community in Panama can trace its beginnings back to the mid-1800s, when workers from Qixin District (now Huadu District) began migrating for large projects on Panama’s Isthmus of Panama. Although laws were put in place to restrict or even stop Chinese immigration, Chinese migration continued apace despite any efforts made to slow it.

Panamanian Law 15 of 2004 recognizes March 30 as National Chinese Civic and Commemorative Day to acknowledge China’s scientific, cultural, economic, and labor contributions to Panama. Sadly however, Chinese communities in Panama remain divided, as various Chinese governments compete with one another to gain influence in local communities.


Panamanians with Chinese roots have long found it easier to identify with various cultural traditions from China as well as West Indian and American influences, thus becoming uniquely adaptable in Panama’s multicultural society.

Panamanian Chinese culture holds much to be proud of; however, there are also challenges that must be met as younger generations grow up and move further away from China and its culture. Therefore it is vitally important that young Panamanians maintain connections to Chinese culture so as to help integrate into Panamanian society more easily.

After opening diplomatic relations with China, Panama took one of its initial steps toward strengthening them by opening a Confucius Institute at the University of Panama in Panama City. This institute works to recruit students and offer scholarships so that Panamanians may study there.

Zhong recalls his family leaving Qixin for Panama to work on the canal project, with no provision in their contracts prohibiting them from bringing wives or children. Over time however, many men managed to save enough to bring back their loved ones as time progressed; today many original Panamanian-Chinese immigrants have made it back with them; some can even return with children now living back home; few signs remain of them ever having left except terracotta villas built by cousins with blueprints from Central America homes; many come home annually on Tomb-Sweeping Day to pay respect to ancestors and pay respect.


Panama is a small nation in Central America situated on an isthmus that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, best known for its canal. Additionally, travelers flock to Panama’s rainforests and beaches as tourist destinations. Furthermore, its indigenous people are widely recognized for creating exquisite handicrafts made out of cocobolo tropical hardwood – Wounaan and Embera communities are particularly well known for their basket weaving skills and carvings of jungle wildlife on cocobolo tropical hardwood carvings; Kuna women also create vibrantly colored blouses featuring textile patches depicting different parts of the world and animals!

As part of its construction efforts, Panama turned to China for workers. Today, Panama boasts one of the largest Chinese communities in Latin America.

Panama’s Chinese population continues to expand. Members work in government, business or education and their contributions have been invaluable to Panama’s development and economy.

Panama boasts some of the oldest Chinese roots in Latin America and is an essential trading partner with Beijing. Politically, however, Panama has recently reduced its longstanding diplomatic ties with Taipei over time.


As time has gone on, Chinese in Panama have upheld many traditions that originated in China. Beneficence Associations remain organized according to districts of origin in China; Confucian values such as education and respect for family hierarchy remain important; sex selection also remains part of Chinese culture today.

Politics separate Chinese communities around Panama; both People’s Republic of China and Taiwan vie for influence over local Chinese. Yet their love of China unites the community; during Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day cousins of Chinese immigrants in Panama return to Qixin Villages where their ancestors once resided to pay respects and to celebrate Qixin.

Chinese in Panama have contributed greatly to its vibrant cultural landscape, making Panama one of the most cosmopolitan Latin American nations. Today, no visit to Panama would be complete without experiencing some of its unique blend of cultures and ideals; where the Panama Canal connects Atlantic and Pacific oceans lies an unparalleled cultural melting pot with pizza coming from Italy but now being considered American food; rock & roll/blues music hailing from Africa yet recognized all around the globe as American music styles.

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