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About

Enrique Williams

Enrique Williams was born in 1943 in Panama City to parents who were native Panamanians, but whose parents emigrated from Cuba and Jamaica. Enrique’s father worked for the Navy while his mother had a sewing business, and, unlike many West Indian descendants of his generation, Williams grew up in the city, close to the national palace. Although he and his family witnessed racism as well as periods of political instability and violence, he was raised with strong ties to the community and with a strong sense of his West Indian origins. Not only did Enrique’s parents maintain friendships with members of the Zone community, they went even further, sending their children to school in the summers so they wouldn’t “lose English” as a second language. After earning a degree at Panama University, Enrique migrated to Canada in 1970, where he studied a second degree at York University in Toronto. When he returned to Panama eight years later, he became the first director of the National Railway when control was transferred from the United States to Panama, and finally achieved his dream of seeing a united Panama by participating in this major event. After serving in this position and as the marketing director for the Port Authority, the political climate in Panama forced Williams and his wife to return to Canada in 1989 with their children, where Williams worked for a NGO for 17 years before retiring in Panama City in 2006.He now works as a project manager for non-governmental and non-profit organizations, and is proud of his West Indian heritage, the social advancements made in Panama’s treatment of Afro-Antillanos, and his help in creating “one Panama” through his work with the nationalization of once-Canal controlled functionaries. Since he has always been interested in the contributions of West Indians and their descendents to Panamanian society, and to the oral histories of this group, Enrique is now working to preserve these many histories and untold stories, and he has a specific message to the new generation of West Indian Panamanians, who face different kinds of discrimination today. “Be proud of your heritage,” says Williams, “but [remember] you are fully Panamanians.”

 

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