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Immigrants Stories
P - 1
The Sikh Global Village Panama
 
At the Panama Canal, Mira Flores Visitors Centre, there is a large wall mural which has the following inscription:
“CANAL HEROES - They came from many places and spoke different languages. Bringing with them nothing but their desire to work and their hopes, they came together to build the engineering feat that still marvels the world. Most came from Barbodas, but also from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Jamaica. Spanish, Italians, Greeks, HINDUS (capitals mine - early Sikh immigrants were called Hindoos in USA also), Americans, Armenians, Cubans, Costa Ricans, Colombians and Panaminians also contributed to the effort. They managed to understand each other, started families, made fortunes and exalted the country”.

The mural shows some turbaned workers. The story of early Sikh Immigrants to Panama is connected with the construction of the Canal 1904-14 by the US Government. There seems to be no evidence that Sikh workers were involved in the earlier effort by the French in 19th century which had to be given up. The Central and South American Sikh migration is intertwined with Panama because of its strategic location. Post completion of the Canal, some restrictions were imposed on foreign workers. Sikhs had to look for new job avenues. Some of them became peddlers called ‘pheri’ and others started driving locally assembled small pick-ups called ‘cheevas’. Some of them left for other Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina. Others returned home either temporarily or permanently. I was told that about 10-20 Singhs are presently working with the Canal as Director, Pilot or in IT Department. There does not seem to be much recent immigration

An impressive Gurdwara was inaugrated in 1986 and the present President is a Sindhi. During my visit on a Sunday about 100 people attended, only a handful with turbans. Gurdwara’s constitution is registered as "La Sociedad Civica Guru Nanak Sahib". One of the Sikh immigrants owns “Sher e Punjab” farm not far from Panama City.

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