Fences as Patrons of the Racist State

You are here

Student Research Reports, Summer 2018

This is a closeup of the new fence around the UNESCO archaeological site of Panamá Viejo. The fence separates the ruins from the surrounding town, which is also called Panamá Viejo. (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)
This is a closeup of the new fence around the UNESCO archaeological site of Panamá Viejo. The fence separates the ruins from the surrounding town, which is also called Panamá Viejo. (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)

Fences as Patrons of the Racist State
By Pascale Boucicaut

My research, which draws from critical studies of race, heritage and museology, explores spaces which commemorate racial diversity in Panama’s capitol city, from both ‘local’ and ‘national’ perspectives. After completing my first year in the MA folklore program, I traveled to Panama, where I spent ten weeks conducting ethnographic, archival and participatory action research. My purpose was threefold: first, to make contacts with museum professionals and researchers in Panama; second, to visit and begin researching national heritage sites and their representations of black identity; and third, to conduct interviews and unofficial “walking tours” with members of Afro-Panamanian cultural organizations, in order to identify and photograph significant places of cultural heritage outside the registered national patrimony. The initial project I designed changed significantly within the first month, and the primary piece of advice I would recommend to future researchers is to be flexible! Ethnographic work often takes you places you weren’t expecting to go, but this may be beneficial in the long run. This year I will apply to pursue a PhD in Anthropology at Berkeley, and I feel that my time in Panama was successful both for fulfilling the requirements necessary for my Master’s degree, and also for exploring avenues for further doctoral research. 

This is another photo of the UNESCO archaeological site of Panamá Viejo. The photographer also wished to highlight the exclusion of African and Afro-descendant histories and narratives from the world heritage site. (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)
This is another photo of the UNESCO archaeological site of Panamá Viejo. The photographer also wished to highlight the exclusion of African and Afro-descendant histories and narratives from the world heritage site. (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)

This photo was taken outside of Mi Pueblito Afroantillano, the Afro-Panamanian section of a national museum commemorating “ethnic” diversity in Panama. This section of the park has been neglected for decades and, as a result, the buildings are unsafe for visitors to walk through. (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)
This photo was taken outside of Mi Pueblito Afroantillano, the Afro-Panamanian section of a national museum commemorating “ethnic” diversity in Panama. This section of the park has been neglected for decades and, as a result, the buildings are unsafe for visitors to walk through. (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)

I was instructed to take this photo by an anonymous researcher-participant. Here you see the fence surrounding the Corozal American Cemetery, where American military and canal managers are buried. What you don’t see is where I am standing, on the other side of the fence, which is the overgrown and neglected Cemeterio Corozal, where the “black” West Indian canal workers are buried. (Photo by Pascale Boucicaut.)
I was instructed to take this photo by an anonymous researcher-participant. Here you see the fence surrounding the Corozal American Cemetery, where American military and canal managers are buried. What you don’t see is where I am standing, on the other side of the fence, which is the overgrown and neglected Cemeterio Corozal, where the “black” West Indian canal workers are buried. (Photo by Pascale Boucicaut.)

“The fence (of the West Indian museum) used to be out here,” explained one researcher-participant while signaling with her hands a few feet deep into the street. “Then they built a new metro station and pushed our space back.” Now the dense sidewalk encroaches on the yard, and the outdoor events and festivals have had to leave the museum grounds. “It is almost like the wall is there to protect the street, and not the museum or our community.” (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)
“The fence (of the West Indian museum) used to be out here,” explained one researcher-participant while signaling with her hands a few feet deep into the street. “Then they built a new metro station and pushed our space back.” Now the dense sidewalk encroaches on the yard, and the outdoor events and festivals have had to leave the museum grounds. “It is almost like the wall is there to protect the street, and not the museum or our community.” (Photo courtesy of Pascale Boucicaut.)

You are here