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Claiming the Canal: Performances of Race and Nation in Panama, 1904-1999 (Dissertation Abstract)


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Claiming the Canal: Performances of Race and Nation in Panama, 1904-1999 (Dissertation Abstract)
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Dissertation Abstract
Zien, Katherine
Northwestern University
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Evanston, IL
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Dissertation abstract. From the abstract overview: "This dissertation examines the history of theatre and performance events in, around, and about the Panama Canal Zone from the beginning of Panama Canal construction (1904) to the Canal’s handover to Panamanian sovereignty in 1999. For nearly one hundred years, the Panama Canal and adjacent Canal Zone hosted performances of sovereignty, imperialism, nationhood, and racial identity by US and Panamanian citizens. Panama Canal construction motivated Panama’s US-aided independence in 1903 and spawned a massive intra-Caribbean labor migration. Representations of the Panama Canal have, therefore, been crucial to Panamanians’ constructions of their nation while buttressing the citizenship claims of the West Indian Panamanians whose ancestors helped to build the Canal. Likewise, the thousands of US citizens (nicknamed “Zonians”) who resided in the Canal Zone have formed lasting ties to Panama. Panama constitutes a key site in the “US-Caribbean world” (Frank Guridy, Forging Diaspora 63; qtd Zien 118): as a nexus of racial mixing and a locus of US foreign policy in the twentieth century, Panama offers new means of understanding US empire and African diaspora “routes” as these converge in the Caribbean."

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1 Zien, Katherine Dissertation Abstract ming the Canal: Performances of Race and Nation in Panama, 1904 1999 I. Overview This dissertation examines the history of theatre and performance events in, around, and about the Panama Canal Zone from the beginn Panamanian sovereignty in 1999. For nearly one hundred years, the Panama Canal and adjacent Canal Zone hosted performances of sovereignty, imperialism, nationhood, and racial identity by US and Panamanian cit izens Panama Canal construction motivated US aided independence in 1903 and spawned a ma ssive intra Caribbean labor migra tion Representations of the Panama Canal have, ther e fore, been crucial to tructions of t heir nation while buttressing the citizenship claims of the West Indian Pan amanians whose ancestors helped to build the Canal. Likewise the thousands of US citizens ( Z owho r e sided in the Canal Zone have formed lasting ties to Panama. Pa nama constitutes a key site in Forging Diaspora 63; qtd Zien 118): a s a nexus of racial mixing and a locus of US foreign policy in the twentieth century, Panama offers new means of understanding US empire and African as these converge in the Ca r ibbean. II. Methodologies My research methodologies include musicology, theatre and performance studies (entailing textual and performance analysis, ethnographic interviews, and aesthetic theory), and historiogra phies of the Western hemisphere Privileging archival and ethnographic research, m y field work draws upon North American and Latin American studies, Caribbean studies, African diasporic studies, and political theory. rual category influenced by my training in performance studies and in terms of the material performance events that helped to shape the identities and affiliations of US and Pan a manian citizens. In the former sense, I detail the techniques through which the US rieth century. I the o study of performances can divulge substantial insight about the ideologies, anxieties, and desires that sustain groups, particularly in contexts of transi tion or crisis. The world making power of performance its enactments of alternative future s or materializations of possible utopia s onstage facilitates collective yearnings to remake history, or to remember the past differen t ly. III. Chapter Breakdown The I ntroduction, n-


2 asks h ow the Panama Canal staged questions of sovereignty for Panama and the United States. I co mPanama whose slogan is pro mundi beneficio was allegedly created for to facilitate global trade 1 As such, n sionist goals, the Panamanian oligarchy had long sought to make Panama a Hanseat commercial entrept. The Hay Bunau Varil la Treaty complicated definitions of sovereignty in the Panama Canal Zone through the use of the subjunctive tense In English, the con tested phrase of Article III, which allowed the United States to t were sover makes purposefully ambiguous the questio n of whether the treaty has granted the United States sovereign status. Yet if translated into Spa n ish (as it might have been had any Panamanians been present at its signing ), the phras e elicits intensified uncertainty sovereignty in the Canal Zone hinged both on the tre a language that enacts, according to the speech act theory of J.L. Aus tin and the which continues to sow contestation throughout the twent i eth century to the utopian and world making power of performance sove reignty I argue, ironically allowed Panamanians and West Indian labor migrants to imagine new futures for the C a nal Zone even in the midst of great political discord. The Hay Bunau engen dered a form of US imperialism whose efficacy lay in the very act of its self negation (20) Further, the subjunctive sovereignty introduced subjunctive cit izens labor migrants whose families lay between the Republic of Panama and the C a n al Zone. Questions around the citizenship of these immigrants many of West Indian descent swirled throughout the twent ieth century. N ational belonging was linked to racial identity: the Canal Zone used a lh included Jim Crow segregation and a racialized, two tiered wage scale Therefore, By contrast, Panamanian racism was more sub tle, interlaced with xenophobia. Wher iety of subjunctives into Pan t also opened pathways to creatively reimagine nationhood and belonging throughout the twentieth century. As I demonstrate below m any theatre and performing artists and a u diences took up these challenge s In Chapter One, U S I outline the ways that US and West Indian workers forged identities through performances in and around the Panama Canal Zone, from the advent of the Canal to the Second World War. Produced and attended by US and West Indian workers, these per formances shaped identities and created networks of normativity and r e sistance. I enfold the history of performance in the early Canal Zone within an analys is of leisure as a socially structuring 1 See the 2013 special issue 6.2 of Global South, whose editors, Ifeoma Nwankwo and Claudia Milian, espouse a concept


3 ele ment. W hile labor in the Panama Canal Zone has been studied intensively ( by Mi chael Conniff and Julie Greene, among other s ) its corollary leisure is often overlooked. Yet for thousands of US and West Indian wor kers leisure activities proved instrumental in shaping identities, relationships, and affil i a tions For the United States government the Canal Zone marked a distinct type of imperialism that d emanded new ways of imagining US citizenship, economic power and military might. The Canal Zone was to be son both US bas ed policymakers and Panamanians. The latter, cast as passive wi tnational governance from the While the Zone pe r formed itself sy mbolical ly as a n engineering triumph theatre and performance events in the Zone disseminated forms of sociality and social control. After chronicl US President Th e odore the construction of clubhouses first operated by the YMCA, then by the Canal Zone Government (CZG), with funds allocated by US Congress after the end of Canal construction in 1914 Part of t large white male populatio n of the need to enter Panama. Yet I show that the wide ranging provision of amusements, including Chautauqua, and other genres did not prevent whites from leaving the Canal Zone. e ability for whites and some Panamanians served as an obstacle to peaceful US Panama relations, resulting in se c tions of the Roosevelt Arias Treaty in 19 36 that limited US Panamanian contact Yet the nters traversed the border, t o the persecution of West Indian gatherings in Panama. Beginning in the early twentieth century, West Indians pet i tioned the CZG to offer recreational spaces and resources for nonwhite workers. Their petitions were largely ignored until 1919, when the CZG West Indian employees by funding amusements for employees and their families. I compare entertainment toward ee populations I n the 1920s and 1930s th rproved unpopular Community Nights were successful Considering the places of white and West Indian workers in the Canal Zone and Panama, I assess possible re a sons for this difference in outcomes. For both white and nonwhite workers, the gold and silver clubhouses proved import ant centers of social activity and economic transactions until the Tor rijos Carter Treaties d e populated the Zone beginning in 1977. My next chapter takes up West Indian Panamanian performance practices in the 1940s, as the co mmunity outgrew the clubhouses. ndian Panam anian Citizenship in Concert examines a series of high profile cultural events organized by George Westerman, a West Indian Panamanian intellectual, activist, community leader, and concert promoter.


4 T he son of St. Lucian and Barbadian parents, Westerman came of age in the Canal Zone He was instrume ntal in brin g ing A f r i can Ame ri can ar t ists to Panama considering his co n certs not merely entertainment, but ci v ic work (122) H is co m pany, Co n ciertos Weste r man (Weste r man Co n certs), promoted black artists sp ecia l i z ing in cla s sical music to facil i tate the entry of black cultural and so cial contr i butions into the Panamanian pu b lic sphere Between 1949 and 1955, Co n ciertos Westerman co n tracted A f rican Amer i can lyric soprano June McMechen (1949), Afr i can American soprano Camilla Wi l liams (1949), West Indian Panamanian pianist Em i ly Butche r (1949), Afr i can American pianist of Trinidadian d e scent H a zel Scott (1949), African American lyric soprano Dorothy Maynor (1950), African American co n tra l to Carol Brice (1950), African American co ntralto Marian Anderson (1951), African Amer i can soprano E ll a belle Davis (1951), African American pianist Phili p pa Duke Schuyler (1952), African Amer i can singer Billy Eckstine and his trio (1953), African American bar i tone Wi l liam Warfield (1953), and the cast of the Blevins Breen produ c tion of Porgy and Bess (19 55) (104) Prev i ou s ly Westerman had org a nized cu l tural events e m phasizing i n tercultural understanding and ant iracism. I argue that Westerman s immensely popular concert series co n vene [d] a co s m o po li tan, mu l t i r a cial and mu l t i cu l tural a u d i ence base tran s cen ding Panama and the Canal Zone so as to link the acco m plis h ments of black co n cert artists to man i fest a tions of racial equity while re presenting black cu l tural and social co n tr ib u tions to publics of Afr i can descent in Pa n ama While considering t he local effects of the Westerman concerts, I examine the travels of his fe a tured artists. These classically trained artists were international celebrities but many toured outside of the United States to evade US racism. Since Panama was a hub for touring artists at this time, Westerman readily engaged them The art fea tured European classical music and US composed w m u sic a lways co nclu d A s a result, ian descended community, transmitted by music teachers like Emily Butcher, and became part of West Indian as the community enacted a civil rights movement in Panama mirroring that in the United States. Drawing on the musicological research of Jon Cruz, Nina Eidsheim, Samuel Floyd, Ronald Radano, and others, I examine the affective labor of black female artist s in forging (trans)national imaginaries. I conclude by charting the decline of Conciertos Westerman, as n cert promotion activities were hindered by the dictatorship of Panamanian General Omar Torrijos Herrera, who came to power in 1968. Stau nchly anti dictatorship and anti Communist, Westerman clashed with Torr i jos, who also closed the West Indian new s paper that Westerman edited, the Panama Tribune. While West Indian Panamanians employed performance practices to gain inclusion in the Panama n ian nation state, so (non West Indian) Panamanians utilized performances to protest US occ upation of the Canal Zone and to stress ideologies of nationalist anticolonialism. ting the Border: La cucarachita mandinga 193 7 chronicles several performances of the most i mportant play in the Panamanian canon La cucarachita mandinga (The Little Mandinga Cockroach). First pe r formed in 1937, the play was the created by Panamanian artists Rogelio Sin n and Gonzalo Brenes, but the c ore fable


5 narrating the f ate of a young cockroach who finds money and use s it to attract a spouse is told throug hout the Hi s pa no phone Caribbean in multiple variants In the Panamanian play many sui tors are portrayed as Euro North American im perialists who hop e to exploit her economically and sexually The 1937 play tempers its violent and erotic themes through the use of cartoon imagery, labeling itself a l yet su b s e quent iterations of the play, in text and performance, intensify the focus o n c olonial rape and explo i t a tion. Despite its dark themes, the play h as been taken up as a work of national significance in Panama, and the Cucarachita construed as a symbol of the Panamanian nation state Panam anian elites feared t hat their country was being economica l ly and culturally foreign immigrants and the US occupation. To instill nationalism La cucarachita mandinga ythol o gized as a space of whiteness in contraposition to t he racially mixed port cities of Panama City and C oln. However, despite being set in the interior, the play features protagonist. I explore the et ymol o a cross Latin America and the Caribbean u ncovering pejorative connotations ranging clu m sy to d ia bol i cal. Rogelio ho wever, by lin k ing the term to the noble Mandinka people of the Upper Niger. Yet re p r e sented as an Afr i can; rather, she is an Afro Panamanian mula ta (mixed race woman) Her characteriz ation in the script draws a t te n tion to the miscegenation t hat has composed the Panamanian cit i zenry. Co m pl ica t ing te x t u al re p r e sent a tions of the Cucarachita however, prod u ctions in 1937, 1953, 1965, 1976, and 20 06 her role is pe rformed by visibly non black actress es This pe rformance detail i n tr o duces a split b e tween the s cript which represents the Panamanian nation state as an i n su r gent, a n t i col o nial woman of co l or and the performances, which aligned the nation state with the (a lleged) whit e ness of Pa n inter i or. I a r gue that, despite the play s protagonist in performance, Sinn s script effectively e ries the place of blac k ness in the (re)production of Panamanian cit i ze n ship and n a tional b e lon g Dra w ing upon the r e search of Vera Kutzinski, Francis Aparicio, and Al i cia Arrizn, I indicate o tagonist r e pels her white, male foreign aggre s e spite the co m poun d ed a b jection of her identi gendered and racial politics, I detail the history of its revisions. After midcentury, p olitical and cultural contact between Panama and Cuba informed changes made to the play. In a d d i tion to the Bolivarianism that Contr a punteo cubano de tabaco y azcar i n formed Panamanian folkloric studies at midcentury, which greatly impacted the dramaturgical, m us i cal, and choreographic choices of the 1965 and 1976 productions. T he Torrijos regime produced a tr e me ndous uptick in state support for ar tistic and cultural production, and Sinn, a cultural a d ministrator, r e vised the script a c cordingly. The 1976 production converted the prior version into an anticol o nial nationalist man ife sto eliminating innuendo Antic i pating the Panamanian referendum on the Torrijos Carter Treaties that


6 was to take place the fo l lowing year, the play foreshadowed the handover in the C u car a iumph over her suitors. Finally, the 2006 production, sponso red by th e Panama Canal Authority (ACP), echoed elements of the foregoing iterations while attempting to provide postcolonial closure to Panamanian audien c es by staging the play in the former Canal Zone, a site that had been off limits to many Panamanians until the handover (1977 1999) Offered free of charge, this lavish, open air production attracted massive a u diences. Although hrough a we lcoming mise en scne Al so echoing the 1976 production, the 2006 production preceded a public referendum this time, a vote I conclude with a discussion of the ways that a c ompar ative pr o du c tion histor y of La cucarachita mandinga, drawn with an eye to links between theatre and society, can e na ble a closer understanding of political events and their cultural represe n tations. My final chapter dover e xamines two commemorations o transfer to Panamanian sovereig n ty in 1999. The first ceremony, the Panama Canal Handover Gala ( also called the 85 th anniversary of the Panama Canal), was a pageant sponsored by the US owned and operated Panama Canal Company The secon d, nair concert performed by salsa singer and politician Rubn Blades and sponsored by the Panama City mayoralty. Tracing the distinct discourses manufactured by each commemoration, I o bserve : In portraying possible future s for the Panama Canal (Zone) within a unified Panama, each commem or a tive pe r formance also emphasized certain group identities, historical continuities or ruptures, and authori zing claims of historical inclusion within national, regional, and global networ The Handover Gala deployed a large mixed cast comprising US citizens, Panamanians, and Afro Panamanians of West Indian descent. While fostering closure for groups directly linked to the Panama Canal o ry, the Gala also sought to help Panamania ns to The e mphasis on the diffe r ent nationalities o f migrants to Panama contributed to a mu l t i cu l tural framing of the n ation. Yet some participating Panamanian artists, including R mulo Castro, subverting the harmon ious aspects of the Gala, using pe r fo r man ce to pr o voke Pa n a m a n i ans to critically examine the stakes of inheriting the Pa na ma C a nal at the turn of the mi l lenn i um. Rubn Blades to craft a sonic tapestr y that stressed Panamanian unity. Blades grew up in Pa n ama but made much of his music in New York; nevertheless, the concert represented his successful effort to recuperate important implications in Panama. Borr owing from diverse genres of Panamanian music, including pindn (also known as tpico), Blades highlighted his Panamanian heri t age and identity in song Nationalizing his brand of salsa, he ended the concert with a following unsu c e-


7 ment in Panamanian politics. I conclude the chapter by commenting on the ways that both comme m orations Panamanian audiences into a momentary embodied, civic plural ispe cific pe rfo r a paradise for US cit i zens o n ly) to its future status as a Panamanian national utopia a promise that has not been fu l filled, as the Zone has become privatized post ha ndover, once again forming a foreign enclave that is off limits to all but the wealt h iest Panamanians. ( post ) colonial afterlife does not negate the power of these co m mem o rations, which y, deploying the Canal Zone as a sp a tial sign i Such performances planted the seeds for future ut o even as rampant ove rdeve l o p ment and cor ruption continue to d ampen many P anamanians hopes for economic equality, a n ticol on i a l ism, and ant i racism. My reflects upon the legacies of the former Panama Canal Zone, as transmitted through p erformance s. Observing an an nual ritual romera (pilgrimage) by West Indian Panaman ians, to honor deceased relatives who helped to construct the Panama Canal by scattering rose petals into the Canal I note: Throughout the twentieth century and to the present, US citizens and Panamanians have stru c tured their lives, labor, and leisure around the Panama Canal Zone. Their bodies of memory continually (re)locate the country and canal, pr e senting the past within intersecting histories of natio n, empire, diaspor a, and world (286). Even as the material remnants of the former Canal Zone are pr o gressively effaced, perfo rmances offer an embodied means of transmitting the histories of the United States, Panama, and the Afro Caribbean migrants on whose backs Canal constr uction largely rested.

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