Panamanians of West-Indian Descent

Interview with Haydee Beckles


Haydee Beckles

Haydee Beckles is a second generation Panamanian; both of her parents were born in Panama, in La Boca, though her maternal and paternal grandparents were from Barbados. Though she lived in New York for a short time as a child, she and her mother became sick of the cold and moved back to Panama. Since then she has travelled the world, but continues to return to her beloved homeland. Haydee’s career as a poet has sent her to a number of places: Holland, Brazil, France, Costa Rica, South Africa, Nicaragua, the United States, Romania, England, Canada, and Mexico, to name a few. She enjoys her travels, though she does note that not many people abroad know much about Panama. Haydee does not define herself as either black or white, but instead defines herself by the language she speaks: Spanish. She is not married and does not have any children, but does have several nieces and nephews who she loves dearly.



Cecil Haynes

Cecil Haynes was born in Gatún in the Canal Zone in 1913 to parents who immigrated to Panama from Barbados; his father came first to find work, and then his mother came one year later. The Haynes family was very large; it eventually grew to include six children, and from a young age, Cecil was very helpful—he would often catch fish for his mother to cook and feed the family. At the age of fourteen, he decided that he wanted to get a job, so he went out into the Canal Zone to find work, and was hired as an office boy. By the time Haynes retired as an inventory management specialist after working for more than seventy-one years on the Canal, he was recognized as one of the most famous Canal workers; he has received many awards, and has met several international leaders. When asked about the racism and discrimination West Indian Canal workers faced, Haynes says that it was very hard, but it is important not to focus on those hardships alone, but to celebrate the hard work that many Afro-Antillanos put into the Canal. It is something to be proud of. Cecil Haynes still lives in Panama with his wife, Margarita, and they have been married for sixty-three years.