Sunday, April 14, 2013

Panama Canal Children's Book

I went to a book sale of the Friends of the Mecklenburg County Library and came across a children's book on the Panama Canal, by Bob Considine. I bought it without hesitation because I find it fascinating to read about how Latin America was portrayed in the past in the U.S. Normally it is a lot of superior tone and chest thumping.

So I was surprised when the book actually rejected chest thumping. Could America just go in there and do the job easily? Well, no.

The Americans who believed that the hacking out of a canal across Panama would be a simple task, easily solved by American cleverness and drive, had many disappointments in store for them (p. 95).

It talks about labor conditions:

Deaths were greatest among the Chinese (about 400). Many of the Chinese either bought or were supplied with opium, to make them forget the hardships of jungle and mountain grade. The Chinese produced the greatest number of suicides (pp. 35-36).

It talks about race, with even a baseball reference:

Because of Jim Crow laws, Panamanians were unable to get proper schooling, housing, wages and equal opportunities. These unjust laws also applied to people who were grouped into the "Panamanian" class by Zone officials--notably the large number of Jamaicans who did so much of the manual labor attending the digging of the canal.

The color line was extended even to the American Negro who found work in the Canal Zone or visited there. When the Brooklyn National League baseball team appeared in the Canal Zone in the late 1940s during a Spring training tour, their Negro star "Jackie" Robinson was not permitted to eat with his teammates." (pp.157-158).

Finally, it even has extended quotes from primary documents. I had not heard of Bob Considine before, but my hat is off to him. We need a kid's book like this for the Middle East.


Anonymous,  4:22 PM  

Although it is true that "Silver" aka local rate Panama Canal employees had separate housing & pay, they DID HAVE housing, schools, medical care, retirement, commissaries, etc. when the U.S. operated the canal zone, all that went away when Panama (Rabiblancos) took control. The Rabiblancos are far more abusive than the U.S. ever was.

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