Letter to the editor about The Corozal Cemetery
I recently returned to the United States, following a brief trip to the Republic of Panama (“Mi bella Panama.”). I was delighted to see so many improvements in Panama, in addition to the number of constructions still underway. Panama is simply beautiful! However, sadly to say, following a visit to the grave sites of my father and grandparents at Corozal, I left Panama both preoccupied and angry! I was shocked to see the deteriorated condition of the Corozal Cemetery on the former Canal Zone. Absolutely deplorable!
The American Memorial Site is completely fenced in, and just outside those fences you see the striking difference between the West Indian/Panamanian sections. Admittedly, these same “Silver Roll” cemeteries grounds were well maintained when they were under the control of the Canal Zone (U.S. Government). I learned that the West Indian section of Corozal Cemetery is now under the jurisdiction of the National Institute of Culture of Panama (Instituto Nacional de Cultura INAC).
It is obvious that no value has been given to a memorial preservation of the West Indian/Panamanian section. Simply said, the lack of maintenance for the “Silver Roll” section of the cemetery is a shameful disrespect and disregard to the West Indians who labored and gave Their lives during and after the construction of the Panama Canal.
One Panamanian tour guide made the following comment to me: “What you are taking photos of is nothing compared to the gravesites way in the back of the cemetery.” He went on to say that “those sites are completely taken over by the jungle. Graves have been stepped on, dug up and tossed aside.”
Those of us who are identified as West Indian/Panamanian Zonians, are quite aware what it was like to live under the American Jim Crow “Gold and Silver” segregated system that existed on the former Canal Zone. But to see the reality of that segregation still being played out at a burial site is heart wrenching.
I reached out to the World Monument Fund (WMF www.wmf.org) based in New York, a non-profit organization whose focus is the preservation and restoration of historical sites around the world, and was informed that the Silver Roll sites at Mount Hope and Corozal were on their Watch List until 2012.
At the end of the day, it is our grandparents, parents, neighbors, teachers, friends, who were laid to rest in these cemeteries. I would like to recommend that “as a people” we need to organize ourselves to have a visible change to this disrespectful injustice. So what do we do? One approach would be to establish a forum to get folks involved in a discussion and fact finding. Our goal would be to start a movement, get signatures and commitment, then determine a way to start a project in which we work with the WMF and the Panamanian government (INAC) to have the cemeteries conditioned and restored as a memorial site for the Silver Roll people. Maybe even reach out to the American Government for their assistance.
I’m in, and I urge your support! Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Frances “Fanny” Williams-Yearwood
Los Angeles, California