Panama City’s Chinatown reveals historic ties

Global Business

Panama City’s Chinatown reveals historic ties

Panama City’s Old Chinatown is the go-to place in the historic center of the country’s capital for Chinese food, products and culture.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral has more from Panama City.

Shop Manager, Judy Chen works at the oldest store in Chinatown.

“Chinese families come here to do their shopping, eat, catch up with other people from the community. And non-Chinese Panamanians also come here for the food and products,” Chen said.

The first Chinese arrived in Panama in 1850 – as contract laborers to build the Panama Canal Railway. Successive waves of immigration would follow. Today, the total ethnic Chinese community in Panama totals about 200,000 people – about 5 percent of the country’s population.

Panama has the largest Chinese community here in Central America. The old Chinatown here in the central area of the Panamanian capital is their most traditional neighborhood. But the community has expanded well beyond these streets.

The El Dorado neighborhood has been dubbed the new Chinatown with many shops geared to the community. Juan Tam, secretary for the National Council of Ethnic Chinese, has already written and published four books about the history of the Chinese community in this country.

Between 1900 and the 1950 Chinese were not allowed to go outside of this old Chinatown because the area was a walled city. And then when they finished with the walled city like in the 1940’s people started to scatter around. El Dorado is the first place that they moved out from the Old Chinatown. In this area there is a lot of Chinese people who live in this area.”

Antonio Chong runs a travel agency in the mall here in El Dorado. Chong immigrated from China when he was 19 years old back in 1977. Now his son – Jimmy Chong – works with him in the family business. He’s enthusiastic about Panama’s decision to establish diplomatic ties with China.

“We have to look towards the future and every day, every year, things are getting better for the Chinese community in Panama. In June the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, agreed to establish diplomatic relations with China and I think this will be very good for both our countries and foster trade and investment, ” Chong said.

While this new, formal relationship between China and Panama is still quite new, hopes are it will build and strengthen ties that reach back more than a century and a half.

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