. Rumba and the Rise of Black Proletariat Art, 1941–1990
. Rumba and the Rise of Black Proletariat Art, 1941–1990
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter discusses the emergence of a rival sense of nationalism, an “alternative modernity” encouraged by the isthmus’s social and economic transformation, which utilized popular art to challenge the state-sponsored conception of Panama. It shows popular art to be a fluid and diasporic expression that has incorporated brown-skinned people of many different backgrounds as well as European and Asian immigrants who fell under the influence of black proletariat culture.
For the isthmus’s intellectuals, World War II marked a setback in their efforts to counter the effects of North American imperialism and to create a homogenous national culture capable of quelling the republic’s turmoil and reinforcing patriarchy and their own social position. A series of literary works expose their frustrations and chronicle the period in an overwhelmingly negative manner. These books typically depict Panama’s black urban areas, and they portray them as falling under increased U.S. influence and threatening the supposed customs and virtues of the interior. The interior with its imagined mestizo population was considered the true source of Panamanian nationalism. It represented the country’s pure colonial traditions, while the cities were decadent and overflowing with aliens, many of whom were Chinese, Afro-Antilleans, and South Asians and who had come to the isthmus during the construction of the canal. Joaquín Beleño’s Luna verde (1950) offers a classic example of these geographic-ethnic perspectives and the feeling that the global conflict was further corrupting society by increasing the foreign presence in Colón and Panama City and now even extending it into the countryside.1 Beleño (1922–88) was a native of Santa Ana, the traditional working-class barrio of the capital.2 Much of his novel chronicled his early experiences in the city; nevertheless, he begins the book in the interior, portraying the life of an honorable rural youngster who migrates to the capital to pursue his studies. Despite his graduation from the prestigious Instituto Nacional, he postpones his enrollment at the university and instead takes a menial job in the Canal Zone. There, he endures the gringos’ brutal work schedule, the racist structures of their labor system, and even the humiliations of his fellow Panamanians, who begrudge his mannerisms and educational background and sarcastically refer to him as “the lawyer.” He quickly becomes a pawn of his bitterness, and he prostitutes his female cousins to acquire a better position. “God-damn money,” recalls the character, “Everything is a lie in this green river of dollars.”3
In Panama, the global conflict had created an economic bonanza as thousands of North American soldiers arrived to protect the interoceanic waterway (p.75) and the United States erected antiaircraft weaponry across the isthmus. In addition, construction began on a wider set of locks to make the route less vulnerable to an attack and suitable for the largest U.S. Navy vessels. Although this last effort was suspended in May 1942, Beleño and others remained critical of the projects and their effects on the country.4 They viewed the wartime activities as an infringement on their sovereignty and as degrading to their sense of integrity. The conflict encouraged Panamanians to exchange their idealism for money and to endure the abuses of the U.S. colony, with its rigid system of racial segregation, its long hours, and its often dangerous working conditions. Beleño’s character falls into this “tomb of waste and misery,” and to escape, he spends his earnings in Panama City, in the seedy new establishments along the Avenida Central and springing up in many other parts of the capital.5 For nationalists, rural Panama had always been more wholesome than the cities, which were again receiving thousands of immigrants, who were attracted by the renewed economic opportunities. Although policies had been implemented to limit arrivals from the West Indies, there was a sense of a growing Caribbean presence that was frustrating efforts to lighten the republic and to maintain Panama’s image as a part of Spanish America.
“Blacks, blacks, blacks,” ranted Demetrio Korsi in his wartime poem “Vision of Panama” in which he complains of the drunkenness and sex trade on the Avenida Central, the most important commercial thoroughfare in the capital.6 Panama City and Colón were, in fact, developing a lively nightlife, as dozens of cabarets and bars catered to the U.S. servicemen and contracted musicians and dancers to entertain them. Rumba was the dominant music of the period, and Cuban orchestras often performed in these venues, strengthening Panama’s ties to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.7 Korsi and others saw these influences as harmful and maintained the old paradigm dividing the country. Rural areas were the cradle of Panamanian nationalism, while the cities were debasing its morality and culture. “The war is fatal,” concluded Korsi, who described Panama City as “easy” and “open,” like the black and “cholita” prostitutes he condemned in his writing.8 Rogelio Sinán’s Plenilunio (1947) offered another good example of this perception of the global conflict. Plenilunio is the period’s most celebrated novel and essentially portrays the capital as a gigantic brothel, teeming with pimps, drug dealers, and gringos and with miserable migrants from the interior whose hopes for a better life are lost in the metropolis’s stupor of alcohol, sex, and primitive rhythms. An Afro-Antillean barman appears in one scene, and he slavishly joins a group of drunken U.S. sailors in a rendition of “God Bless America.”9 These novels portrayed Afro-Antilleans as North American lackeys, a theme which was echoed constantly in the press. A 1940 editorial on the “Antillean Threat” asserted that this population was “content to accept whatever (p.76) salary, given the fatalism of the black race … and to consider insults … as something honorable, if they come from the white man.”10 Nevertheless, there was another side to these developments, which Sinan and others were unwilling to acknowledge or which they vilified with their writings.
The war served to validate Panama’s Caribbean identity, as it strengthened and confirmed ties to the African diaspora and provided an opportunity for local black painters, excluded from the official networks, to project a vision of their society. In fact, just as President Arias was disenfranchising Afro-Antilleans with his constitutional reforms of 1941, representatives of this community were creating a rival program, whose emergence and evolution are the subjects of this chapter. Critical to its rise was the same process of modernization that democratized cultural norms in Panama and elsewhere and so frightened members of the intelligentsia.11 Popular art emerged as a consequence of economic changes and exploited the opportunities of the isthmus’s transformation, particularly its rapid commercial development. Especially important were the new music and entertainment industries and the boomtown environments of Colón and Panama City. The canal and then the war encouraged the arrival of immigrants, and among this predominantly Afro-Antillean population arose a number of talented painters, many of whom were born in the Canal Zone and who began their careers in the U.S. sector, fashioning its signs, its office letterings, and its billboards. Panama’s popular artists have largely been self-educated; however, many of them have gained experience in related businesses, while others have apprenticed under more established figures or have even taken courses at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas. Indeed, one of the most remarkable aspects of the tradition is how it has gradually infiltrated the educational system and other institutions of the lettered city.
During the war, these men found an outlet for their talents. There had long been a custom on the isthmus of plastering bars, brothels, and similar establishments with what a 1913 guide described as “atrocious landscapes and figures” and making their entrances “as gaudy as a barber’s pole.”12 A 1931 article also referred to these “strange pictures” in its description of a sailors’ bar in the capital.13 The creators of these images now found a host of new opportunities. They decorated the expanding nightclubs of the terminal cities, and given the popularity of rumba in the mid-twentieth century, they were encouraged to depict Afro-Caribbean subjects. Rumba and other types of commercialized black music altered the country’s aesthetic balance and fortified Afro-Panamanian culture, much as jazz and “other forms of working-class expression” had encouraged similar transitions in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.14 Leading the way in this important shift was a creative artist named Luis Evans, who became more commonly known as The Wolf.
(p.77) The Wolf was the son of Haitian immigrants and a charismatic street figure in the 1940s. Shaped by racism, poverty, and social marginalization, his theatrical life inspired a host of followers who spread his style across the republic and beyond its initial Afro-Antillean circles. Indeed, the painters soon represented a variety of ethnicities and mixed easily with one another in their endeavors, suggesting less of a divide between Afro-colonials and Afro-Antilleans and more unity at the working-class level. Driving this expansion was the fierce competition among the entrepreneurs who hired the artists. Painting became a means of advertising businesses as well as the artists’ talents and the tastes of their patrons. Paintings quickly materialized in Panama’s shops, beauty parlors, markets, hotels, and restaurants. Most significantly, the decorations appeared on Colón and Panama City’s buses which eventually came to be known as the “red devils” and which rivaled Haiti’s tap-taps in their imagery and colors. Caribbean music was one of the central features, and in effect they became roving shows, disrupting the lettered city. Over the next decades, these mobile spectacles continued to evolve and became one of the most defining elements of Panama’s urban environment. As my title suggests, bus art and other forms of African diasporic expression have left an important mark on the country and to some degree have even supplanted the official identity promoted by Beleño and described in my earlier chapters. This tradition was urban and working-class in nature, and unlike the project of Panama’s state intellectuals, it did not flee into nostalgia, but rather it embraced many aspects of modernization, especially those resulting from World War II and from the rumba craze that the conflict helped to generate.15
Soldiers, War, and Rumba
The World War II’s impact on Panama was “phenomenal” according to British historian John Major, who emphasizes in his book on U.S.-Panamanian relations the tremendous growth of the isthmus’s economy. Major claims that “by 1943 the country’s gross receipts” from the Canal Zone had reached “four times the pre-war average.” Per capita income roughly tripled in the same period, while government spending increased fourfold during the hostilities. “Panama had never had its so good,” insists Major, who notes that this boom was the result of U.S. efforts to protect the canal from a potential Axis attack.16 Even before the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, military officials had begun to open new bases, including an enormous airfield at Río Hato, some seventy miles southwest of the Canal Zone and the place where Beleño actually begins his novel. His hero departs for the Panamanian capital due to the foreign (p.78) occupation of these territories and its effect of expelling campesinos from the area. “The gringos are everywhere,” wrote Beleño who especially lamented their new presence in the interior and what he saw as their damaging moral impact: their trail of bars, rumba, and prostitutes.17 The North Americans eventually took over 134 sites and stationed some sixty-eight thousand troops in the country.18 The Zone’s total population hovered around one hundred thousand, or roughly double its prewar average.19 Many more servicemen and -women traveled through the canal and often spent time on the isthmus.
A 1939 Life article chronicled one of these stopovers, when the U.S. fleet arrived in Colón and “gave 40,000 sailors a chance to taste shore life in the … largest mass debarkation of the year.” A photographer captured their forays about town, their purchases at local shops, and their meals outside the commissary. Several images were taken inside the Atlantic Nite Club, a spacious cabaret that had functioned for at least a decade and where the guests danced or kicked back and drank beer. Another soldier is shown playing a trumpet in front of a local jazz band.20 The thousands of transient servicemen also demanded services, and many more auxiliaries were needed to accommodate their presence. They maintained the facilities for the visitors and constructed new barracks in the Canal Zone, along with the burgeoning defensive infrastructure, a road from the Río Hato airbase to the capital and another that connected the terminal cities. Workers were also required for the massive lock project, which was initiated in July 1940 and which would have provided the United States with some insurance against an attack on the waterway and have allowed the passage of its largest naval vessels. The Zone, as Beleño describes it, was in “constant movement,” with a steady rumble of trucks, men, and dynamite and a voracious demand for more and more laborers.21
In response, a steady flow of rural migrants settled in Panama City and into its surrounding territories, which were also undergoing a process of light industrialization and receiving large-scale U.S. investment in the banking and utilities sectors.22 The population of the capital district mushroomed from 84,000 in 1930 to more than 133,000 by 1940, increasing another 31 percent over the next decade. By the mid-twentieth century, approximately a quarter of the republic’s inhabitants lived in the metropolitan area.23 The city’s perimeters also expanded, generally eastward along the Vía España, since the north and west sides had been contained by the Canal Zone and the south was blocked by the Pacific Ocean. Álvaro Uribe notes in his study that many of the capital’s basic residential areas were initiated or solidified themselves in this period.24 Meanwhile the United States also recruited outsiders, much as it had done during the construction of the waterway to meet the needs of this gigantic project. Eventually over 22,000 people came to Panama, mainly from (p.79) El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Colombia. Officially, only 5,000 Jamaicans traveled to the country, as local leaders opposed the recruitment of Afro-Antillean laborers. Those who arrived were not allowed to leave the Canal Zone, and they faced repatriation after completing their contracts.25 Panama’s government, however, could not control culture, and in this regard, the isthmus became more linked to the Caribbean. This was especially due to the influence of Afro-Cuban music. Son, guaracha, guaguancó, and bolero and other forms of African diasporic expression, including jazz, calypso, cumbias, and tango, had been avidly commercialized during the previous decades and were spreading as part of the ongoing “vogue of primitivism” and as a result of the burgeoning radio and the recording industry.26 Panama long ago had begun to welcome foreign musicians, zarzuelas, opera stars, circus acts, and prostitutes.27 By 1940, it had developed what a tourist ad called a “gay” and “cosmopolitan night life.”28 The war clearly helped to accelerate this phenomenon, as it expanded the market for amusements in the terminal cities and produced a veritable rumba boom on the isthmus. Panama became a major stop for Caribbean entertainers, and their presence undermined the lettered city’s efforts to forge an official mestizo identity while reinvigorating the Afro-Panamanian community and its ability to project a sense of blackness.
As a consequence of the conflict and the flood of workers and soldiers, Colón and Panama City developed a raucous and lively atmosphere that National Geographic compared to that of a “frontier town” and that Beleño chronicled in great detail in his novel.29 “Here in the Zone, we do not suffer from the war. We take pleasure in it,” reflected one of his characters, and indeed, even in 1942, with the official suspension of Carnival following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, El Tiempo reported that “people are enjoying their four days of holiday … as if nothing of importance were happening.”30 There was insufficient concern about the war, reported the editors of the Mundo Gráfico, who urged their readers to be more “measured in their rejoicing” before the following year’s celebrations.31 El Tiempo and other newspapers chronicled the events of the conflict with their bold and sometimes ominous headlines, but they also took note of the isthmus’s social scene and its numerous sporting events, concerts, and parties and the impressive influx of foreign celebrities who came to perform in the terminal cities.32 The protagonists of Beleño’s novel spend their off hours in bars, merrily drinking and trying to forget their idealism and the humiliation of having to serve the gringos. The Sloppy Joe, the Ancon Inn, the Good Neighbor, and Cantina Pete are just a few of these establishments, which tended to be concentrated around the Plaza 5 de Mayo and which were conveniently positioned next to the U.S. sector, with its restrictive orders, its rigidity, and its prohibitions. The war inevitably increased the size and number (p.80) of these businesses, whose advertisements flooded the local papers. Cantina Miami was located in this area and assured its customers of “superior attention, comfort, and a welcoming atmosphere,” along with the “finest foreign and national liquors.”33 Beleño’s heroes also frequented the brothels which were spreading along the nearby J and K Streets and which catered to the U.S. servicemen. “Prostitution frees us,” reflected Beleño, “from the need to encourage tourism,” suggesting that it was the “most powerful filter” funneling money from the Zone.34 Thousands of women were trafficked into this sector, many of whom came from Cuba and Argentina and whose sundry accents are documented in the text along with the music that characterized these venues. The cantinas’ jukeboxes blared North American dance tunes, jazz, calypso, tangos, and Colombian cumbias, but Cuban genres were the true soundtrack of the period, given their broad international popularity, their presence in U.S. and Latin American movies, and especially their vigorous promotion over the radio.
Panamanian radio had begun clandestinely in the early 1930s. It arose in the face of U.S. opposition and a 1914 decree by the Panamanian government, which had provided the North Americans with control of all wireless communication. A 1934 law had annulled this concession, and radio businesses grew over the next decade, along with the ability to access foreign broadcasts, which had been arriving from Cuba for roughly a decade and spreading the popularity of the island’s commercial music.35 By the early 1940s, there were nine stations transmitting from Colón and Panama City and many with their own shortwave frequencies. Their numbers would increase quickly over the next several years and even expand into the interior.36 Their schedules appeared in national newspapers, along with those of the international stations and the occasional advertisements for Cuban music recordings, which Victor and Columbia Records were marketing across the region.37 These classifieds and articles, written about the industry, reveal the popularity of tropical music programming, the recorded and live performances by Cuban orchestras, and the numerous actors and announcers from the country, who made appearances on local shows. Cuban and Argentine disc jockeys were common in the 1940s, while artists from the island regularly visited the terminal cities and greatly influenced Panamanian popular culture. The Cubans diffused the period’s broader fascination with blackness, and they helped to validate Afro-Panamanian culture.
From their initial emergence in the 1910s and 1920s, Cuba’s successful commercial performers had often been “musicians in motion.” The economics of the business made it difficult to stay on the island, and many groups toured and even established themselves in other countries to increase their marketability and their earnings. Europe and the United States became popular (p.81) destinations, especially as the Cuban genres penetrated the movie industry, but another circuit developed in Latin America, with Veracruz and Mexico City becoming two of the most prominent venues for these propagators of Afro-Caribbean culture.38 Minor Cuban acts began to perform on the isthmus as early as the mid-1920s, and they became more common by the early 1930s.39 The Bozas had settled in Panama at the beginning of the republic, and several members of this talented, Cuban family would also help to spread the island’s music traditions.40 The Cubans joined a multitude of itinerant tango singers, Oriental dancers, flamenco and ranchera artists, cumbia bands, magicians, hypnotists, and opera stars whose travels frequently took them to Panama. Indeed, for much of the twentieth century, the isthmus boasted a lively entertainment scene that depended heavily on the foreigners whose trips often coincided with the Carnival season.
One of the early important Cuban visitors was the vocalist Miguelito Valdés. Valdés had spent a good part of the 1930s sharpening his talents in Colón and Panama City. He returned triumphantly in February 1937 with the famous Casino de la Playa Orchestra to entertain revelers at the capital’s Century Club. The Lecuona Cuban Boys and the female orchestra Ensueño also staged shows during this period and were followed in the 1940s and 1950s by such luminaries as Dámaso Pérez Prado, Gustavo Más, José “Chombo” Silva, and Pedro “Peruchín” Justiz.41 Among the 1947 Carnival attractions were appearances by Orlando “Cascarita” Guerra and his colleague, Miguelito Cuni. Radio Centroamericana broadcast Cascarita’s programs and contracted him to sing in its studio after the conclusion of the annual festivities. Similarly, a Cuban group known as the Conjunto Habana spent all of 1946 on the isthmus, with the Cadena Panameña transmitting its music.42 Myrta Silva came in 1945, with Daniel Santos arriving two years later, presaging the popularity of salsa in the republic and the subsequent influence of Puerto Rican singers, who would fill the space left by the absent Cubans after the rise of Fidel Castro.43
The Cubans and others who passed through the isthmus typically entertained audiences in the so-called toldos. These were large, open-air platforms that could accommodate up to several hundred people. They were fenced-in and elaborately painted for Carnival and, in many cases, displayed the Caribbean tropical imagery then so in vogue in Panama and elsewhere. In 1910, Carnival had become an official holiday, and the subsequent private and state support of the celebration provided opportunities for popular artists to produce thrones and elaborate street decorations, which often became the focus of newspaper reporting. The Canal Zone enthusiastically participated in the traditions, electing its own queen and producing its own floats.44 A photo taken of a 1960s-era toldo reveals its extravagant lighting and murals which include (p.82)
Cuban-style comparsa groups were organized as early as the 1920s to enliven the capital’s Carnival festivities, with the Millonarios Cubanos becoming one of the most popular. Its dozens of members paraded through the streets, and they often participated in the “baptisms” of toldos.51 Smaller conjuntos appeared at the end of the decade and offered interpretations of Cuban son recordings. In the 1930s, paralleling developments on the island, larger orchestras emerged on the isthmus, with the war later helping to spur on this tendency. The conflict gave life to a host of new venues, such as the spacious beer gardens off the Avenida 4 de Julio, where the Cubans and their soul mates entertained soldiers, Zonians, immigrants, and enthusiastic Panamanians who were plainly ignoring the directives of their leaders and who were adopting the imported rhythms with their “hip-weaving” moves.52 The Spanish intellectual Agustín del Saz immediately took notice of the rumba upon returning to the isthmus after a six-year absence. Writing in the early 1940s, he described what he called the “broadening” of the capital—its packed streets, stores, and visual intensity and the proliferation of a new entertainment industry. “The city,” he wrote, “has become full of musicians … and dance lovers can enjoy themselves without rest in the night-clubs.”53
The beer gardens included such places as El Rancho, Jardín Balboa, and Jardín Atlas. The Bavarian-style establishments had open-air seating and heavy stone clubhouses for accommodating dinners as well as dances and other events. During the 1945 Carnival season, Avelino Muñoz entertained patrons at the Balboa with his popular local orchestra.54 Muñoz, Pablo Acosta, and Armando and Carlos Boza were several of the period’s most active band leaders, organizing Panamanians to perform tropical music. Simultaneously, Panama had developed a thriving jazz scene, many of whose performers were Afro-Antilleans. The musicians played in the capital’s cabarets and often backed up the visiting artists. Armando Boza became especially prominent and incorporated Cubans into his La Perfecta Orchestra. The Happyland, the Kelly, the Rialto, and the Palm Terrace were several of these more ornate venues, which mimicked the ambiance of the island’s casinos and which opened their doors during daylight hours to accommodate the schedules of the transiting U.S. Navy vessels.55 Photos of these clubs reveal their vibrant wall paintings of sultry beaches, flowers, piano keys, and other instruments along with an assortment of exotic landscapes, such as one finds on a red devil.56 A 1949 image of the Tropical Rhythm Makers shows the orchestra seated in front of a (p.84) large mural depicting what seems to be an alpine valley, with temperate trees, bushes, and even a church in the distance (plate 4). Foreigners and nationals gathered in these exuberant surroundings to watch entertainers as varied as jazz orchestras, comedians, accordionists, and swing bands.57 The exiled Juan Perón later met his second wife after her appearance with a dance group at the Happyland. Celebrities and smaller acts were constantly passing through Panama, which was visited by Mario Moreno “Cantinflas” in May 1942 and by the bullfighter Fermín Espinosa the following October. In September 1943, poet Pablo Neruda offered a reading at the Teatro Dorado, and the New York Yankees and Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in 1946. World champion Joe Louis came in February 1947, and for several days, he delighted boxing-crazed Panamanians with exhibitions at the national stadium.58
Colón, of course, had its own entertainment scene which was centered around the bustling Avenida Bolívar and which included such places as the Cabaret Florida, the Copacabana, and the Cabaret La Conga.59 Like their counterparts in the capital, these venues mimicked the grand casinos of Cuba and were characterized by their lush Afro-Caribbean decorations, their elaborate stage shows, and their eroticized, tropical acts. During the war, Jade Rhodora was one of the city’s exotic performers and executed her “savage dance” with a cohort in a gorilla suit. A 1943 advertisement announced an appearance at the Club Monte Carlo and showed her and her hairy partner in a passionate embrace.60 When the Monte Carlo had opened its doors a year earlier, it had boasted a lineup that was entirely Cuban and featured a “pair of rumberos,” vocalists, ballerinas, and various conjuntos.61 Club Chanteclair was another wartime hot spot, and on the evening of 13 February 1945, it offered a mix of eleven presentations, advertised boastfully as a “big parade of stars.” Among the supposedly well-known personalities was a group touting itself as the Afro-Cuban Ambassadors, along with an assortment of other entertainers whose stage names conjured up images of the Caribbean.62 In many ways, the environment of the terminal cities was modeled on the example of swinging Havana. It imitated its shows, its prostitution, and cabarets and elevated, above all, the importance of rumba, which even penetrated upper-class social venues. A 1942 photo shows the president of the republic watching a provocative Cuban dancer in the exclusive Club Unión. The performer was quoted as nonchalantly observing, “But of course, the presidents also like these things.”63
Beleño naturally complained bitterly about the music. He described it as “half-black and half-bewitched” and related it to the degeneration of the country and to its subservience to U.S. interests. The masses, he suggested, had lost their way and, in the words of one of his characters, would now “have to (p.85) be directed.” Even the “men from the countryside,” he observed angrily, “were dancing like monkeys … by the light of the jukebox.”64 Afro-Panamanian band leader and percussionist Francisco Buckley (1940–) recalls the rumba age very differently. He remembers his adolescence in the 1950s and how this grandson of Afro-Antillean immigrants, who lived his first years in the Canal Zone, began to learn Spanish while he explored the city and visited the toldos during the Carnival celebrations. Radio was one of his great passions, and he eagerly listened to the broadcasts of such celebrities as Celia Cruz and Beny Moré and other Cuban stars who continued to perform in Panama. For him, there was no contradiction between their songs and morality and his country’s cultural and political autonomy. Instead, they became part of his own identity and spurred him to become one of the leading exponents of Afro-Panamanian music in the second half of the twentieth century.65 Simultaneously, a group of painters was emerging who would also emphasize blackness in their creations and who would challenge the traditional conceptions of Panamanian nationalism and its disappearance of the country’s African legacies.
If the intelligentsia was elitist and fled to the countryside, this movement was working-class and urban in nature and fashioned a more cosmopolitan perspective of the country. Many of its early promoters were actually Afro-Antilleans or they were immigrants from other regions but who maintained close ties to the Canal Zone and its black, English-speaking workforce. As a result, they tended to live in Colón and Panama City and drew strength from the area’s economic development and the startling rise of Afro-Caribbean music. The wartime entertainment industry was one of their early opportunities, inspiring them and providing them with opportunities to decorate the bars and cabarets of the period and to take their creations to other sectors. Popular art became an important method for marketing the isthmus’s hotels, barbershops, theaters, buses, and restaurants. The buses probably became the most visible manifestation of this form of commercial advertisement. Their owners used music as well as the paintings to vie with one another in attracting passengers, especially after the breakup of the large transportation companies by the Torrijos regime in the early 1970s. By this point, popular art had become a dominant aspect of Colón and the capital, and even state institutions had adopted the imagery, demonstrating the malleability of national identity. Eventually elements of the lettered city acknowledged the importance of the paintings, which had arisen as a consequence of the expanding U.S. presence and which, from the beginning, were rooted in Afro-Caribbean culture. Indeed, a striking aspect of the tradition is precisely the number of early artists with ties to the Canal Zone and to its Afro-Antillean population.
Foremost among these painters was Luis Evans, who was more commonly known as “The Wolf” and whom some people have credited with founding the bus art tradition in the first decades of the twentieth century. A 1941 National Geographic article displays one of his creations: a spotted cat walking stealthily through the jungle with the words “The Panther,” inscribed prominently below the image. The painting appeared on the front door of a truck, whose owner possibly thought of himself as a skillful driver and who broadcast his abilities to navigate the city’s congested streets.66 Research today has disproved the idea that the Wolf was the only person decorating motorized vehicles following their introduction during the construction of the canal. Interviews and other sources suggest that Héctor Agustín Falcón, a self-taught artist and poet from David, probably painted buses in the mid-twentieth century. Other materials have indicated that Víctor Lewis (1918–93), who would become a celebrated canvas painter, might have been one of the Wolf’s early rivals. Undoubtedly, there were a number of people, who helped to foment the practice and who competed with one another on the roads of the capital.67 Nevertheless, Evans seems to have been the most important of these contenders, as the testimonials of his life are especially memorable and provide a glimpse of a theatrical man whose antics were designed to attract attention and which inevitably gave rise to a group of imitators. Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz might have described him as a “negro curro,” the “black show-off” type he associated with nineteenth-century Havana and who dressed him or herself in fashionable clothing and paraded about the streets in a defiant manner to confront and weaken the surrounding racist structures.68 Across America and in many different periods, scholars have documented this familiar pattern of Africans and their descendants challenging their subordination through self-assertion and a pronounced tendency for spectacle. Raul Fernandez speaks precisely of this “braggadocio” when he describes the Cuban rumberos, who strutted onto stages and sang their own praises and whose flamboyance, at this moment, was such an important example.69
The Wolf was a kind of Panamanian curro. He and his followers arose as a consequence of modernization and of the resulting close ties between the isthmus and Caribbean. He especially projected the region’s sense of showmanship and what David Brown calls the “assertive occupation of public space.”70 The Wolf, according to his stepsons, was of Haitian descent.71 His parents had probably immigrated in the early twentieth century to find work in the (p.87) construction of the canal or in the hundreds of auxiliary activities that arose as a result of the infrastructure project. They may have formed part of the mass of Afro-Antilleans who after the opening of the interoceanic waterway lost their housing privileges in the Canal Zone and were forced to reside in Colón and Panama City. By 1930, they numbered between fifty and sixty thousand, or roughly 12 percent of the total population.72 In Panama, these newcomers erected their own community, which increasingly became integrated into the local society. They created what Michael Conniff describes as a “Afro-Antillean subculture” with its own religious, social, and business institutions and with growing if ambivalent ties to the broader community.73 The isthmus’s modernization was transforming the country by increasing the size of its black population, by expanding the reach and impact of Afro-Caribbean culture, and by weakening its claims as a Hispanic republic. In its more honest passages, Luna verde reflects this transition. The book affirms the capital’s links to the African diaspora and the relative marginalization of what was traditionally considered to be national, particularly in the eyes of the intelligentsia. “I feel obligated to accept the antillanidad of this city,” wrote the author Joaquin Beleño. “When we talk about history, we see ourselves as linked to South America; but it’s as though the canal construction were not part of our history, or the thousands of people who came from the Antilles. … Perhaps we are closer to the Antilles than to Colombia and hence the confusion of our souls and our decisions. The aristocracy lives a colorless mix of colombianismo and yanquismo, while average people find themselves in a stage of antillanidad imposed by this black sediment from the Caribbean.”74
The Wolf ’s life was reflective of this situation. He was the product of this “sediment from the Caribbean,” which was interacting and affecting the local population and was becoming less Antillean and in effect more Afro-Panamanian. The Wolf was a black man who mixed easily in Panama City and who spoke English and Spanish as well as Haitian Creole. His Spanish-speaking stepsons confirmed that he was raised in Calidonia, the traditional stronghold of the Afro-Antillean population, and that he later moved to Santa Ana, the capital’s more established and varied working-class barrio. There, the Wolf cared for his adopted family and cultivated his image as a colorful bohemian. In many ways, the Wolf seems to have been a Caribbean showman. He used his abilities, like the Cuban curros, to dazzle and defy the notions of a racist society that depicted blackness as something alien and associated it with ignorance, submission, and poverty.
Many remember the Wolf as an affable dandy who dressed in stylish white suits on days he was not painting and who ambled about the city with great dignity, much like a statesman, a sports hero, or celebrity. He often wore a (p.88) fashionable hat and a golden necklace, and his broad smile revealed a shiny front denture that added further to his sense of spectacle.75 A 1942 photo taken for the Mundo Gráfico conveys his confidence and panache. The wiry Wolf stands, smiling and facing the camera with hands outstretched in a theatrical manner. In a quote, he compares himself to Roberto Lewis and insists that he and Panama’s leading academic painter were the country’s only two artists.76 During the work week, the Wolf trolled the streets. He carried his brushes in a conspicuous manner, tucked behind his ears to announce his services. Younger men recall seeing him in their neighborhoods, laughing and projecting his arrival with his persona.77 The Wolf’s demeanor was boisterous and charismatic and was seemingly designed to broadcast his presence, much like the stage behavior of the Cuban rumberos, whom Fernandez describes as “musicians with attitude” and who “enveloped” their audiences with their “witty” references, “street pregones,” chorus lines, and “jousting stances.”78 To self-advertise and contest his marginalization, the Wolf also made sketches on the seawall along the Avenida Balbao. There he painted palm trees, hearts, and other images, while entertaining bystanders with his singing. His preferred songs were the tangos of Carlos Gardel, as the Argentine star had been born in France, and the Wolf took pride in their shared cultural heritage. On Sundays, the Wolf often visited Panama’s horse track which was and remains a popular sporting venue. During the races, he placed himself beside the rail, and he leaped and yelled loudly as the jockeys bolted past him. His stepson, José Ángel “Chico” Ruiloba (1927–2004), noted in an interview that the Wolf rarely had money to place on bets. Nevertheless, he used the scene cleverly to promote his reputation, depicting himself as a daring gambler.79 Public drunkenness was another part of the show and a means of enhancing the painter’s standing as a fascinating character.
Alcohol has surfaced in the lives of some men whom I have included in this study and whose work has often placed them in cantinas and in many similar establishments. It is unlikely that the Wolf was an abstemious type, given his own entry into these venues and his seemingly bohemian character. Nevertheless, Chico and his brother both claimed that their stepfather never abused drugs or drank excessively. They spoke of the Wolf with great respect and underlined his supportive role in their family. At the same time, they acknowledged that his public image was different. In the outside world, the Wolf adopted a persona quite different from his function in the household. In his professional environment, he often appeared as a drunkard who was self-deprecating, loud, clownish, and entertaining. The tales of his drinking are legend among older painters who witnessed his antics when they were teenagers.80 One such observer recalls an incident in which the Wolf was decorating a chiva (p.89)
A number of these artists were born in the U.S. sector and were raised in its segregated Afro-Antillean communities. Víctor (1930–) and Oliver Bruce (1928–2004) were two of these early painters whose parents had immigrated (p.90) from Jamaica and St. Lucia during the construction of the Panama Canal. The couple reared their three children in Frijoles, an Afro-Antillean town within the U.S.-controlled territory, and they sent them to the local English-language schools.82 Similarly, Chico Ruiloba grew up in the U.S. area and spent his childhood in the village of Red Tank. Many of Red Tank’s inhabitants were from the Caribbean, and from this point forward, Ruiloba became partially Afro-Antillean, although his family was Latino and had come from Colombia, presumably about the same time as the Bruces’ arrival. In his interview, Ruiloba occasionally conversed with me in English, employing an accent developed in his years among Afro-Antilleans (plate 5).83 Tomás Sosa (1904–), Medín Mon (1918–), and Virgilio “Billy” Madriñán seem to represent similar cases. All of them were native Spanish-speakers; however, they worked for so long in the Canal Zone that they reportedly acquired a good command of English.84 Other artists such as Víctor Lewis, Franklin Gaskin (Franco the Great) (1927–), and Héctor Sinclair (1926–) spent their early years in the terminal cities. Nevertheless, their families lived within the Afro-Antillean neighborhoods that had developed as a consequence of the interoceanic waterway and its reliance on Caribbean workers.85 Colón, in many ways, was an Afro-Antillean community, with its large black and English-language population. Nearly all of these painters became dependent on the U.S. Canal Company and its system of third-party labor. The Zone offered opportunities for men with artistic skills and with the ability to navigate its linguistic differences. It offered training and apprenticeships to the Wolf’s disciples and in some cases the prospect for steady, long-term employment as they spread their discipline gradually into Panama.
As the Biesanzes noted in their 1955 publication, the Canal Zone was a kind of “huge plantation” or a “company town” in which there were few democratic institutions and in which power was concentrated in the hands of U.S. officials. The governor and his staff administered the waterway and oversaw affairs as wide-ranging as health care, education, housing, recreation, and garbage collection. The company/government ran the community’s bowling allies, bakeries, hotels, swimming pools, and libraries, and it even produced light consumer products, such as toothpaste, cosmetics, and salad dressing. There was little room for private initiative in this “benevolent dictatorship,” and consequently, the Zone became intensely bureaucratic and dependent on a proliferation of billboards and other markers that were generally handcrafted through the mid-twentieth century.86 In a second novel, Beleño commented on this “disciplinary order,” which he saw “manifest in the placards hung everywhere.”87 A 1940 photo helps to illustrate this atmosphere. The image shows a quiet Zonian street with numbers carefully painted onto neat buildings and an arrow on the corner pointing to the Balboa Quarantine Station. The station (p.91)
Víctor and Oliver Bruce, who had been raised in Frijoles, were hired by the Canal Company in the mid-1940s. The teenagers were employed as painters in the Zone, and their responsibilities, according to Víctor, were never very demanding and left time to pursue their own endeavors, which included a correspondence course with the Washington School of Art. Among this second generation of the Wolf Pack, the school was apparently a well-known institution, as a number of its members enrolled in classes and sent their assignments to the United States for review.92 The Wolf’s disciples were not self-taught in the strictest sense, but rather, they combined their personal efforts with apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and other forms of instruction. The Zone itself created programs for sharpening the skills of its artists.93 Many also took classes at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas, and in an exceptional case, Chico Ruiloba and José Manuel Zabala traveled to Argentina and studied at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes Ernesto de la Cárcova.94 More typically, the foundational experiences of these artists arose from their jobs in the Canal Zone or from similar positions in Panama’s government and the country’s expanding beer and soda companies, which were plastering advertisements across the isthmus. The Bruces’ work in the Zone was of great importance in their early development as painters. The Zone and its billboards provided their artistic tutelage, and eventually they moved to Panama City, where they launched their careers in the business sector, decorating hotels, bars, restaurants, and private residences. There, Oliver adopted the moniker Bruzolli, and both brothers came to be known for their eccentricities, which served to publicize their activities and which marked them, like the Wolf, as colorful street performers. Bruzolli sipped Panamanian seco, while undertaking his projects, and sometimes he interrupted them to play blues and jazz tunes on his guitar.95 One of the Bruces’ first assistants was Franklin Gaskin (Franco the Great), who also occasionally painted in the U.S. community and who illustrates, as well, the significance of this connection in the rise of Afro-Panamanian art.
Such incidents help illustrate another aspect of popular art and its development since the mid-twentieth century. The Canal Zone was the primary training ground for these painters, as many of them had grown up within its borders or in the nearby Afro-Antillean neighborhoods. However, these same men (p.96) became deeply involved in the republic and became associated with people from many different backgrounds. They had never been isolated in their communities, but instead they transferred easily from one locale to another and ultimately affected Panama’s sense of nationalism. This was especially the case during World War II, when the isthmus’s economy grew in response to U.S. expenditures, and Panama experienced the rapid commercial development which would continue to shape the capital over the next decades. During the conflict, the country’s booming nightclubs utilized and stimulated the rise of black visual expression. The art spread to many other sectors and became especially conspicuous in the expanding transportation industry. The competition among buses, their owners, and painters fueled the extension of this aesthetic practice, making it a central characteristic of the country’s urban life. Eventually, even state institutions adopted the showy paintings, incorporating them into the official conception of the country and demonstrating the malleability of national identity. The war and its rumba boom provided the crucial opening. They connected self-taught artists to commercial African diasporic culture and encouraged them to become contributors to the nation-building process.
The Rise of Popular Art
During the conflict and for several decades afterward, many of the artists in the Canal Zone found regular employment in Colón and Panama City. The Bruce brothers abandoned the Zone altogether, while Jorge and Eugenio Dunn divided their energies between the capital and the more familiar U.S. sector. Similarly, Chico Ruiloba, Billy Madriñán, and Héctor Sinclair pursued freelance jobs in the local economy, while maintaining their positions with the North Americans.98 Other painters emerged in the mid-twentieth century, who devoted themselves more exclusively to the terminal cities which were expanding and bustling with commercial activities. Alberto Alie was a native of Chiriquí who had grown up in China with his grandparents and who had returned to the isthmus to start his own family. In the early 1950s, he formed TAZ, a decoration company, with Tiberio Álvarez and José Manuel Zabala.99 The three partners collaborated on many contracts before pursuing their own fortunes at the end of the decade. One of their chief competitors was Sabino Jaureguizar (1912–81). Sabino was a dynamic newcomer from the Basque Country who had entered the business in the late 1930s and who would introduce dozens of younger men to the discipline. Equally influential was Eduardo “Malanga” Meneses Núñez (–1995), a former fisherman who later studied in Cuba, Mexico, and the Soviet Union and who became a specialist in the construction of (p.97) carnival floats.100 Italo Brugiati (1917–2002) also made floats and participated in the 1946 Victory Carnival along with an interesting combination of academic and more informally trained artists. Academic artists occasionally crossed the divide and created decorations for parades and other festivities. For many years, Brugiati fashioned beer and soda signs in David and elsewhere in the interior.101 For him and others, one of the initial attractions of the republic was its growing entertainment business which expanded in response to the increased U.S. presence and which provided the painters with steady opportunities to embellish cabarets and bars with the trendy Afro-Caribbean imagery. In interviews, the older artists recalled these years with nostalgia. In contrast to Beleño and his depiction of degeneration, they fondly remembered the music of the period and the creative opportunities which it allowed them to pursue, in spite of their isolation from mainstream intellectual circles.102
The cabarets where the Cubans and other musicians performed varied in their size and adornments, but most utilized the services of the painters, who plastered the environs with exotic dancers and with the beach scenes, flora, and vibrant colors then so in vogue on the album covers and in the rumbera films of these years. The Wolf and his immediate progeny were responsible for these paintings, and they fashioned them in a host of similar places. A March 1946 photo of Manolete taken during the Spanish torero’s visit to the capital shows him seated inside the Hotel Central with an equestrian scene displayed on the back wall.103 A month later, the Lions Club of Panama City hosted a party for the carnival queen, and a newspaper article on this event reveals several hand-painted murals around the dining area.104 In an interview, Ruiloba related how as an apprentice, he participated in the decoration of Happyland, the capital’s leading music club, near the Plaza Cinco de Mayo. The Happyland became a Hawaiian paradise in early 1944. He and others also helped with the toldos and the variety theaters during the Carnival season, when they played host to the visiting tropical bands and embellished their structures with similar ornaments.105 The cinemas also employed the self-taught artists to make the posters for their constantly changing functions. The businesses received small photos of the productions which they presented to their audiences, and the painters reproduced and infused these representations with a sense of popular aesthetics. On his visit in the 1940s, Agustín del Saz was struck by the tableros, which sometimes could stretch across the entire front of a theater and which grabbed the viewer’s attention with their spectacular colors.106 Jorge Dunn carried out these duties for many years at the Canal Zone’s Balboa Theater. Víctor Lewis became a fixture at Colón’s Cine Rex, while Alberto Alie began his long career producing advertisements for Calidonia’s Teatro Presidente.107 It is important to emphasize the painters’ attachment to these places (p.98)
Not surprisingly, many painters were also musicians who performed the cadenced pieces which so inspired their art. As he advanced into his eighties, Jorge Dunn remained a gifted singer, and often interrupted interviews to croon boleros or Perry Como hits from the mid-twentieth century. During the 1940s and 1950s, he and his siblings formed a vocal group, and they occasionally offered shows in the red-light district, sometimes in bars where Dunn had also painted. His brother, Eugenio, joined Payne and His Ambassadors and participated in several other English-language orchestras that primarily played covers of U.S. standards.108 The Bruce brothers and their sister were also attracted to music, and as youngsters, they presented themselves on Colón’s variety radio programs.109 Oliver Bruce later became an enthusiastic guitarist (p.99) whose assistants recall beating on buckets while their mentor led them in improvised renditions of jazz, blues, and tropical pieces.110 Malanga Meneses was even more involved with music. He created a combo with his brother and played the guitar as well as the Cuban tres.111 Teodoro de Jesús “Yoyo” Villarué (1926–) was also a painter and committed musician and still displays his trumpet proudly in his studio. For fifteen years, he participated in the Cuban-style ensembles, which were so trendy in the mid-twentieth century. The connections to his painting were especially obvious. Sometimes he slept in bars after gigs and woke in the morning to decorate their stages.112
Caribbean and black rhythms were a critical part of the emergence of popular art. The rumba craze provided many of the discipline’s initial venues and informed its aesthetic principles. Today, artists remain connected to these legacies, as is evident in their use of syncopated patterns, crisscrossed coloring, and frequent depictions of salsa, bachata, and reggae stars. Not surprisingly, there have also been an abundance of vocalists, DJs, and general music enthusiasts among the Wolf’s younger descendants (plate 8). Marcos Cáceres (1938–) provides an excellent example. Cáceres did commercial art in the 1960s and 1970s, while simultaneously emerging as an important national singer and even becoming known as the “Singing Painter.”113 Rumba and other forms of Caribbean music encouraged the rise of black diasporic imagery, which also became tied to broader economic developments. Indeed, the same paintings which adorned the cabarets and toldos also became effective advertisements for Panama City’s hotels, shops, street vendors, and buses. Similar drawings appeared in Panama’s newspapers.114 The artists became immersed in this environment and the capital’s steady capitalist development. Unlike Beleño and his fellow letrados, who saw this moneymaking as morally damaging and who idealized the vision of a “purer” and rural Panama, the popular artists embraced the changes of their era and utilized them to spread their ideas.
Among the most dynamic in this regard was the Basque immigrant Sabino Jaureguizar. Sabino had left Spain in the early 1930s, anticipating the outbreak of civil war in his country and in search of opportunities for his still young and undefined life. In Panama, he taught himself outdoor advertising by studying the translations of U.S. publications and by a trial and error process which occasionally ended badly. Héctor Sinclair recalls a time when a powerful group of investors threatened to ruin the Spaniard’s business, after billboards he had made for them, just six months earlier, began to peel badly in the isthmus’s humid air. Just as the global conflict broke out in Europe and Asia and ignited an economic bonanza in the republic, Sabino had opened his shop on Calle Estudiante, across from the Canal Zone in the capital’s center. A large sign placed above his building trumpeted his services and engaged viewers with its (p.100) inverted and amusing lettering. Sabino was a confident and theatrical street character, who blazoned “Sabino sabe pintar” (Sabino knows how to paint) in many different locations. Inevitably, he was influenced by the local environment and absorbed much of Panama’s Caribbean culture, especially as he regularly employed five to six assistants, many of whom were Afro-Antilleans.115
These men included Héctor Sinclair, Franco the Great, and Chico Ruiloba.Marcos Cáceres later apprenticed under the Spanish master. Their contracts included the decoration of bars and nightclubs, as well as hotels, billboards, and restaurants. For many years, Sabino and his employees fashioned the lettering for the Gago grocery store chain. Usually, the artists labored late into the night, when they rushed about the aisles and adjusted prices and created eye-catching signs to attract customers. Before Christmas, they worked along the Avenida Central, where they began a decades-long tradition of adorning store fronts with manger scenes and angels and with other festive imagery.116 Fueling this advance was, of course, the competition among the city’s spreading businesses which were responding to its physical and demographic growth and which utilized the painters to promote their products. Nothing better serves to illustrate these factors than the nascent transportation industry which was left in the hands of the private sector and which historically was poorly regulated by government authorities. The buses multiplied in number from World War II forward, and they adopted Caribbean music and Afro-Panamanian imagery to beat out their rivals and to attract more passengers in their high-speed races about the capital.
In the mid-1930s, there were just 290 motorized vehicles providing public transportation in Panama City. Wartime rationing briefly slowed their expansion; nevertheless, their ranks continued to increase even during the conflict, ascending to over 800 by 1943.117 Two decades later, there were roughly 1,100 buses covering the city’s twenty-two routes. Many of these began at different parts of the capital but then converged on the Vía España, contributing to a tendency for intense rivalry and traffic jams, documented by the government and numerous student theses at the Universidad de Panamá.118 The fleet initially depended on so-called chivas. The chivas or goats were flat-bottomed trucks with wooden or metal cargo covers and side benches, allowing eight to twelve people to sit across from one another. Squeezing on board could be uncomfortable, although the arrangements provided for an unusual amount of interaction between those rubbing elbows inside the cabins. The busitos began to arrive in the 1930s and accommodated another eighteen to twenty-two passengers. They and larger models gradually took over the system, and by the late 1960s, the American-style school bus was the predominant way for most commuters to make their way around Panama City.119 Today, residents still rely (p.101) largely on these vehicles, which are usually at least ten years old when they are imported from the United States.
The changes, of course, came along with steady investments and the establishment of transportation companies beginning in the early twentieth-century. While large businesses were able to monopolize parts of the city, they never controlled the entire metropolitan area, and in fact, what is remarkable about the sector is the long-term survival of small proprietors. Their presence assured that transportation remained competitive and encouraged a tendency for risky driving and a propensity to use music and Afro-Caribbean art to entice the entry of sufficient customers. Statistics help to reveal this situation and the function of the paintings as a form of advertisement.
In the mid-1950s, Panama’s governmental authorities reported that “independent” owners controlled 73 percent of the capital’s commercial passenger vehicles. Moreover, well over half of these modest entrepreneurs did not belong to the cooperatives, which were loosely organized associations responsible for the exploitation of certain routes.120 Over the next years, the larger entities gained some ground; however, even as late as 1971, businessmen and-women who had less than nine vehicles, still possessed about half of the capital’s buses.121 The result was a highly diffused industry in which responsibilities and routes were often overlapping and in which aggression and speed were considered necessary to help assure one’s economic survival. Newspaper and government reports from the 1940s and 1950s reveal the profusion of traffic violations and accidents often involving the harried drivers, who were equally motivated by their contracts. Generally, these did not provide them with stable salaries, but instead they offered them a percentage of the profits or a fee for each route completed.122 The consequence was a propensity to step on the accelerator and to rush from stop to stop as quickly as possible. The same sources suggest another tactic, designed to assure that passenger use was adequate. This was the employment of designs and music which would entertain people as they rode on the vehicles and which sometimes even drew them in from the sidewalks. In Panama, it was not enough that buses be efficient; it was also important that they be “prity” in order to battle their rivals on the street.
A newspaper photo from the early 1940s shows a pair of boys staring intently at a chiva. On its wooden or zinc sides, there is a rural landscape with a road and an unintelligible name sketched around the painting. To the right, is a second vehicle adorned with a palm tree and a “restless bird” flying above a distant island. Names such as the “Bengal Tiger” and “Help Me to Live” came from songs, radio programs, and movies.123 The buses, like other aspects of proletariat, black culture, appropriated the prestige of these well-known elements and used it to capture and draw in their public. The interiors of the chivas (p.102)
The author of a mid-1950s essay whose photos record the chivas’ “charm” and visual intensity, noted how the drivers “tune in, at the most appropriate times, to the programs of mambos and guarachas.” On other occasions, they broadcast riveting sporting competitions, or they offered passengers a chance to catch up with their favorite soap operas. The vehicles, which transported students were usually the most flamboyant and sometimes had upwards to twelve to fifteen whistles, bells, horns, and other noisemakers to further their sense of public spectacle.125 Modernity, which had driven the elite into (p.103) nostalgia, fomented a more creative response among the artists responsible for crafting these roving galleries. Rather than fleeing from the rising commercialism, they absorbed many of its most visible icons, and they fused them with a sense of black, proletariat aesthetics to shore up their position against their competition. This rivalry became even more intense in the early 1970s, when the Torrijos government dissolved the capital’s three large transportation businesses and opened the market further to the small entrepreneurs. These operators organized into the Sindicato de Conductores de Transporte Colectivo (SICOTRAC) and acquired nearly all of the capital’s vehicles.126 Ramón Enrique “Monchi” Hormi (1947–), one of the most important contemporary painters, has described the next decade as his “golden age,” when lines of buses parked outside his home and when hundreds of red devils circulated throughout the capital.127 Within a short period, they were the “owners of the street” and the most visually dominant aspect of the urban environment.128 Not surprisingly, they also came to affect the state and the Panamanian official identity.
This “alternative modernity,” which had arisen out of capitalism and out of Panama’s links to African diasporic culture, eventually was recognized as something national and as part of the country’s cultural heritage.129 Culture was no longer exclusively rural and associated with mestizaje and the Azuero Peninsula. Now the black cities won recognition for what some described as the urban area’s “folklore.”130 The buses, in particular, became an iconographic image that businesses and the tourist industry exploited to market their products. For their part, the artists penetrated the state and used their positions to reformulate its symbols. The state had formerly dressed itself in neoclassical architecture and in features reminiscent of the Spanish period. It had fashioned the Panamanian identity out of cornices and Moorish columns, but now some of its edifices took on a red devil quality, with bright paintings projecting rhythm, hybridity, and panache.
Red Devils and the State
From the 1960s onward, a number of the painters found positions connecting them to civil and religious authorities, and they plastered logos onto their buildings and vehicles and infused them with their sense of aesthetics. For years, Yoyo worked as a humble sign maker for Panama City’s municipality, and while many of his responsibilities did not engage his creativity, he was occasionally charged with more imaginative projects. In the early 1970s, he crafted a dazzling puma onto the side of General Omar Torrijos’s helicopter, and he (p.104) often decorated jeeps, trucks, and other military equipment with humorous, whimsical, and flamboyant figures. In 1983, he did a striking depiction of John Paul II on the side of the aircraft used by the pontiff during a brief visit. For this event, Yoyo also made a board picture of the Pope that was suspended outside the Municipal Palace and today hangs luminously in the Metropolitan Cathedral. The Pope smiles benevolently at the viewer, with his countenance and upper body sketched in brilliant colors. For the two hundredth anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s birth, local officials also turned to the bus painter, who fashioned another portrait for display outside their offices.131
Equally vibrant and bigger images have appeared in parks, alongside roads, and at the entrance to communities. Such manifestations grew in the 1970s, as Torrijos’s government established new artistic institutions, hosted shows that were open to broad participation, and hired both academic and popular painters to make patriotic murals around Colón and Panama City.132 Popular art subsequently became common in educational institutions, in hospitals, and in many other public locations (plate 9). Monchi, who apprenticed briefly under Yoyo and who spent a decade employed by the National Maritime Authority, has produced several school murals in his hometown, La Chorrera.133 His colleague, Héctor Aníbal “Lytho” Gómez Rodríguez (1955–), who once dominated Colón’s bus decoration, has done a plethora of similar jobs in that city. Lytho’s work includes a series of beautiful paintings that grace the walls ringing the Colón free trade area and that display the attractions of the surrounding region.134 Today, the Instituto Nacional is full of similar imagery, as are the Escuela de Artes y Oficios and the Don Bosco Basílica in central Panama City. Santa Ana’s cavernous God Is Love Temple boasts several sizable works by self-taught artists, as do the grounds of Parque Summit, whose intermittent buildings and multihued benches feature depictions of the isthmus’s natural life. In David, the managers of the community’s most prestigious hospital recently commissioned painters to make landscapes similar to those appearing on the red devils around the facility’s MRI equipment.135 Salazar provides another example of the connections between popular art and such spaces. In 2006, this leading bus painter completed a piece for the Tocumen International Airport. The project which he undertook with a group of Panamanian school children relates various episodes from the country’s history.136 Earlier Captain Nelson Cisneros (1956–), who had studied under Bruzolli, finished two large murals at the capital’s Fire Department Headquarters. The more impressive of these murals is entitled “The Fireman of the Future” and could have appeared on a hood of a red devil. It depicts a fireman battling a brilliant conflagration and a cascade of water gushing from a tangled hose.137
(p.105) Bruzolli himself had long been connected to the Fire Department and had created many of its emblems and statues as well as the paintings of nearly all of its commanders, stretching back into the late nineteenth century and today hung proudly at the Darío Vallarino Barracks.138 Meanwhile, Bruzolli’s brother, Víctor, won a number of similar contracts and is responsible for most of the portraits of the comptroller-generals of the Republic.139 The Dunns’ canvases adorn multiple government buildings. Eugenio’s depiction of the Instituto Nacional, with its multicolored and pulsating lighting, is displayed in the school’s administrative office, while several of Jorge’s famous tinajas line the vestibule of the National Assembly. There is probably no better example, however, of these connections between the public sphere and the Wolf’s descendants than their colleague Malanga Meneses. Malanga had a thriving decorative business in the second half of the twentieth century and specialized in the bright, eye-catching portraits that for a long time were used in political campaigns. Several of these stylized and intense head pieces still lie about his old studio on the Vía España. Malanga was also a prolific designer of floats for Panama’s annual Carnival. He and others such as Héctor Sinclair, Billy Madriñán, and Chico Ruiloba established the aesthetic standards of this industry, including its obvious reddevil-like tendency to utilize castles, pagodas, and other foreign icons and to cannibalize them in swirling patterns and colors. In the early 1970s, Malanga’s career entered a new phase when he became what his son describes as the “official painter of the state” and made the majority of the monumental adornments for General Torrijos’s public rallies.140 Among such pieces were gigantic billboards, which were sometimes hung from the exteriors of buildings and which relied on popular art’s sense of bravado to reinforce the position of the leader. In 1983, for the arrival of the pope, Malanga erected a twenty-five-foot portrait of the pontiff in the middle of Parque Urracá.141
As Malanga and others infiltrated the government and embellished it with their tendency for spectacle, their bright hues, cadences, and iconographic imagery, their own creations came to be seen as a manifestation of the Panamanian identity. Elements within the business community were particularly willing to identify the art as one of the country’s characteristic features, as they readily could see its appeal and commercial value. The red devils, in this sense, were especially important, and from the early 1970s forward, they evolved into a national symbol. Today, Panama’s national rugby team proudly bears their showy name, and radio stations constantly imitate their horn blasts to grab the attention of their listeners. Frequent competitions have been organized by private interests to award the capital’s most extravagant bus, and schoolchildren have occasionally participated in contests, presenting paintings imitative (p.106) of the tradition.142 The vehicles have also appeared regularly in pamphlets and other materials directed at the country’s visitors. “Popular art thrives in every nook and cranny,” insisted one of these glossy publications with photos of murals outside businesses in Colón.143 “We are very Caribbean,” observed another of these works; “in short, we have a tropical happiness that can be seen in the designs on our buses.”144 Even as recent as 2008, a detail from a red devil was included in a travel ad listing “things to do in Panama.”145 An earlier guide produced by local officials, highlighted the red devils in a “folklore” section and connected them to the capital’s “cheerful and colorful” nature.146 Today, dozens of blogs and other web pages offer information about the vehicles, usually presenting them to their readers as a fascinating if somewhat dangerous aspect of Panama City.147
The buses’ iconographic status is also apparent in the multiple instances in which they have made appearances on television, with the artists occasionally participating in these endeavors. Yoyo collaborated in a recent commercial for the November independence celebrations and was filmed along with the flag, uniformed schoolchildren, the monument to Balboa, and other symbols of Panamanian nationalism.148 In 2008, a widely seen Telemetro advertisement relied on the red devils in its efforts to introduce a new program called Buscando a Pepito. That same year, Taima used the buses to market its cell phones in the republic. Foreign and Panamanian newscasts and variety shows have also offered regular segments on the red devils and have introduced them to thousands of viewers across the continent. Likewise, movies have sometimes relied on the buses to situate their plots in the country’s urban areas. Multiple red devils appeared in The Tailor of Panama (2001), a fictionalized portrayal of the post-Noriega period that most critics blasted as of mediocre quality.149 Shortly before the Hollywood production, a well-known clothing store in Panama City sought the services of painter Héctor “Totín” Judiño (1965–). The “My Name is Panama” business, which caters to tourists, asked Totín to design a showy bus to place on the roof of its Vía España building. For several years, Totín’s work remained at this location, where thousands of people could admire its creativity and its most memorable feature which was a stylishly dressed demon who stood leering, just left of the side entry, and who called out to passengers, “Welcome aboard, Mommy!” Such displays are now part of the “patriotic kitsch.”150 They have appeared on coffee mugs, postcards, and T-shirts and on numerous other articles sold to visitors. Many stores now hawk miniature replicas with similarly extravagant sayings sketched across their exteriors.
Presently, the capital also boasts two “Red Devil” taverns. One is located near the Tocumen airport and serves a middle-aged and working-class clientele, while the other locale sits on the Vía España and has a younger and more (p.107) upscale atmosphere. It specialties include desserts such as “Traffic Jam” chocolate and an appetizer called “Get off the Bus Ceviche.”151 Both places feature popular art decorations and exploit their flamboyance to draw in customers. The Vía España establishment even has a bar crafted amazingly from the body of a red devil. The Chivas Parranderas have also used the vehicles in their efforts to attract clients. The Chivas or party buses are painted like the red devils and imitate their loudness and their sense of showmanship. In the evenings, they take visitors and others around the city, with carnival bands blasting boisterously from their cabins. Passengers contribute to the spectacle with their dancing, applause, and rowdy laughter. Like the red devils, they self-advertise their presence and force the attention of those around them. Such performances of Panamanian identity have not gone unnoticed and have fostered a reevaluation of the official conception of nationalism. In Panama, official forms of nationalism have not remained hierarchical and solely the product of middle- and upper-class intellectuals. Rather, they have incorporated many other influences, including those of the Wolf and his descendants.
In this regard, the self-taught painters have gained a measure of recognition from the traditional intelligentsia. It has been impossible for this group to ignore the artists, who have been grudgingly accepted as part of the national culture and who have even been imitated on some occasions. A 2005 program by the municipality of Panama invited the country’s leading academic painters to participate in a program, decorating the carts which circulate around the capital and sell snow cones to pedestrians.152 More and more of Panama’s artists have also turned to the city in search of their subject matter, and they have accepted the hybrid and postmodern perspectives long ago adopted by the Wolf and his followers. Notably, most of them have not received traditional training but rather are architects, graphic designers, and other professionals. Slowly urban areas have gained some legitimacy in the eyes of the intellectual class, which had long regarded the countryside as its source of inspiration and which had been preoccupied with notions of purity and origins.153 Individual popular painters have also achieved some stature among the country’s cultural elite. Víctor Lewis and Eugenio Dunn were the most successful, as they concentrated on canvas paintings and on penetrating galleries and other mainstream spaces. By the time of their deaths, they had become “national painters,” with their works displayed regularly in domestic and foreign exhibitions and canonized in glossy commemorative publications.154 Interestingly, their rise coincided with the development of a school of indigenous painting that was also closely linked to commercial ventures.155 They were not, however, the only ones to earn some respect from the intellectual establishment. There was significant, if reluctant, admission that art can appear in many contexts and (p.108)
Silvano Lora was a resident Dominican artist whose research helped to mark this transition with an important essay in 1973. In his article, Lora marveled at popular art’s dominance of the commercial sectors of Colón and Panama City. He lamented the lack of previous studies, insisting that the genre deserved much greater attention, as it was “representative of the national culture.”156 Lora and others were beginning to realize, as Julio Arosemena would assert just a year later, that the “urban environment is full of folkloric elements” and that Panamanian traditions were not purely rural, as Beleño and others had so often asserted. Arosemena, who taught at the national university, led his students in a study of the buses’ copious lettering. They noted the “intentional deformation” of words and phrases and the frequent use of English expressions. They suggested that these were not regrettable appropriations but instead that they constituted a “popular philosophy” and in many cases a “critique of social ills.”157 Other articles and theses followed these investigations and broadened the appreciation of the red devils.158
In 1984, academic Stanley Heckadon Moreno published another influential essay in which he argued that the buses reflected the capital’s Afro-Caribbean (p.109) culture and its residents’ appreciation for bright colors, designs, and lively music. He warned against those who were then attempting to implement an overhaul of the transportation system by importing wholesale the examples of other countries. He compared these efforts to the previous decisions to level the capital’s colonial fortifications and to “disfigure” its parks and other patrimony in the name of modernization. For Heckadon, the buses had become another part of the city’s historical infrastructure and were therefore entitled to measures of protection.159 Sandra Eleta echoed many of these themes in an award-winning 1985 documentary. Eleta argued that the red devils were a manifestation of black urban identity and that they deserved all Panamanians’ approval.160 More recently, U.S. and European filmmakers have made illuminating videos about the buses, highlighting their forceful and postmodern qualities.161 Foreigners have always been fascinated by the red devils and have been some of their strongest backers. In 1988, writer Moira Harris included them in her broader study of the “painted vehicles of the Americas.”162
Domestic appreciation culminated in August 1983, when the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo opened a two-month show about the red devils. Panama’s most prestigious public gallery invited contributors to submit paintings, such as appear on the emergency doors of the buses and which many consider to be their aesthetic centerpieces. Thirty decorators took part in the competition, including such prominent figures as Monchi and Yoyo.163 Salazar unfortunately declined to participate, citing his disinterest and the “red tape” of the contest.164 A panel of judges reviewed the compositions and determined the presentation of three cash prizes, as well as a commendation from the German ambassador for the best depiction of a “protector saint.” Tomás Antonio Fong was the recipient of this last honor, and in an interview, he emphasized how he had developed as an essentially self-taught artist.165 In general, the jury favored conservative themes and those closely tied to traditional national images. The guidelines for the show also allowed officials to withdraw any works they considered “offensive.”166
The top award went to Lytho, who presented a reproduction of Raphael’s Madonna in a Chair. Pedro Pablo Ortega took second place with a copy of the seal of the republic, while the final winner was José Antonio Henríquez, who reproduced Titian’s portrait of Charles V on Horseback. Some people were disappointed with the failure to recognize more imaginative pieces; however, overall the event was a success, vaulting bus painting into the national consciousness and providing the genre with a sense of validity. A spokesman for the Caja de Ahorros, which has an important art collection and which had helped to sponsor the exhibition, described the works as “authentically Panamanian,” insisting that “our people’s sentiments and ideas … are what inspire these (p.110) creations.”167 Equally effusive assessments appeared in the press and linked the red devils to Panamanian identity. One article, published several weeks before the opening, depicted it as the “cultural event of the year.” Another portrayed the paintings as “our most authentic folklore,” while third praised them in similar terms and suggested that they reflected “what we are as a nation.”168
No one, of course, should overestimate these reactions. The attitude of the intelligentsia continues to be hesitant toward the red devils and other forms of popular expression. During the 2003 centennial celebrations, several books were published on Panamanian painting but with no references to the creative street tradition.169 These and other errors demonstrate the ambivalence that cultural elites continue to feel toward the Wolf ’s progeny and toward their ubiquitous and eye-grabbing creations. On the one hand, they identify them as typically Panamanian and associate them closely with their culture. The red devils in particular have become a “folkloric fact” and have been “projected in commercials, documentaries, and written works,” but at the same time, they are still widely misunderstood and frequently dismissed as something frivolous and unworthy of any true appreciation.170 Chapter 6 examines the current wave of hostility which threatens to eliminate the vehicles in the near future. Panama’s national identity remains a battleground for these proletariat painters. Nevertheless, they are winning some obvious victories, as evidenced by other groups adopting their colors, their thematic fluidity, and infectious cadences and becoming like them, “100% prity.” In my next chapter, I will explore the aesthetics of bus painting and how it is precisely designed to break down hierarchies, to challenge the status quo and to engage audiences. So often in my interviews, the painters referred to boxers when they attempted to explain their profession. They emphasized how the athletes try to knock out their opponents, while winning over the crowd with their charisma and theatrics. Similarly, the bus artists have exploited intense rhythms, hybrid themes, and sense of panache to fight their way into the national conscience.
(1) . Pulido Ritter suggests that Beleño’s writings confirm the “profound fragmentation” at this time along class, ethnic, religious, and ideological lines (“Joaquín Beleño,” 6). Neocolonial development conflicted sharply with the aspirations of the country’s lettered city. For more on Beleño and his novels, see Ana Patricia Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 67–75.
(2) . Jurado, “Prólogo”; Beleño, “Auto-Biografía.”
(3) . Beleño, Luna verde, 49, 80.
(4) . Major, Prize Possession, 306.
(5) . Beleño, Luna verde, 30.
(6) . Demetrio Korsi, “Visión de Panamá,” in Itinerario, ed. Ricardo Miró, 318.
(7) . I use the word rumba in its generic sense to mean broadly Afro-Cuban music. More specific genres popular during the war included son, bolero, guaracha, and danzón.
(8) . Korsi, “Visión,” 318–19.
(9) . Sinán, Plenilunio, 123.
(10) . “El peligro antillano,” Mercurio, 26 January 1940, 2.
(11) . Hobsbawm, Age of Empire, 236–42.
(p.213) (12) . Fraser, Panama, 57.
(13) . “Tourists Should Follow Example of U.S. Sailors,” Star and Herald, 27 February 1931, 12.
(14) . Moore, Nationalizing Blackness, 133; Austerlitz, Dominican Music, 46–51.
(15) . Moore, Nationalizing Blackness, 11.
(16) . Major, Prize Possession, 240; Conniff, Panama and the United States, 93–94; LaFeber, Panama Canal, 99.
(17) . Beleño, Luna verde, 219, 233.
(18) . Major, Prize Possession, 240; Lindsay-Poland, Emperors, 45; “History of the U.S. Southern Command.”
(19) . Uribe, Ciudad fragmentada, 55.
(20) . “Life Goes on Shore Leave with 40,000 Sailors of the U.S. Fleet in Panama,” Life, 6 February 1939, 62–65.
(21) . Beleño, Luna verde, 36.
(22) . LaFeber, Panama Canal, 99–100.
(23) . Censos nacionales de 1950: quinto censo de la población, cuadro 1.
(24) . Uribe, Ciudad fragmentada, 63–72.
(25) . Major, Prize Possession, 212, 240, 284–85; Conniff, Panama and the United States, 93–94; Conniff, Black Labor, 101, 106. Such measures seem to have been largely successful, at least according to the 1950 census, which recorded a decline in the number of Caribbean-born residents from 22,606 in 1940 to 17,263 in 1950 (Censos nacionales de 1950, 1–2).
(26) . Moore, Nationalizing Blackness, 166.
(27) . Foreign entertainers began to arrive in the mid-nineteenth century, after the completion of the Panama Railroad (1855), which ran between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and which revived the isthmus’s role as a place of transit. Their numbers increased, according to Ingram, when the French attempted to build a canal in the 1880s. See Ingram, “Música,” 72–73; Ingram, “Creación musical,” 247; Díaz Szmirnov, Génesis, 75–113.
(28) . “Stay a While in Panama--Crossroads of the World,” Para Nosotros, December 1940, 26.
(29) . Luis Marden, “Panama, Bridge of the World,” National Geographic 80, no. 5 (November 1941): 591.
(30) . Carnival was officially suspended in 1942. Nevertheless, Panamanians and others crowded into beer gardens, bars, and clubs, where they were allowed to celebrate until 11 p.m. See “A pesar de que los bailes son hasta las once de la noche, se advertió mucho entusiasmo ayer,” El Tiempo, 16 February 1942, 2; “Bailó todo el mundo hasta las 11,” Mundo Gráfico, 22 February 1942, 10.
(31) . “El carnival y la guerra,” Mundo Gráfico, 6 March 1943, 8.
(32) . Information on wartime daily life in this chapter is taken from, El Nuevo Diario (1940); El Tiempo (1942); Mundo Gráfico (1942–46); Mercurio (1940); El Panamá-América (1939–40); Estrella de Panamá (1939–46); Star and Herald (1939–46); La Nación (1945); Para Nosotros (1940–43).
(33) . “Bar-Cantina Miami,” La Nación, 1 June 1943, 3.
(34) . Beleño, Luna verde, 204.
(35) . “La Voz de la Victor,” El Nuevo Diario, 4 January 1940, 3; “Daily Radio Programs,” Star and Herald, 16 February 1941, 4; Staff, Historia y testimonios; Vasto, Historia, 26–33.
(36) . Extracto estadístico, 3:314; Guillermo R. Valdés, “Radiales,” La Hora, 1948.
(37) . Moore, Nationalizing Blackness, 101–4; “Le gusta a Ud. la música cubana, Radio Teatro Estrella de Panamá,” Estrella de Panamá, 5 February 1939, 10; “RCA Victor Antes de Comprar Radio, Radiales o Discos Visite ‘La Postal,’” El Nuevo Diario, 14 January 1940, 5; “RCA Victor ‘La Postal,’” El Nuevo Diario, 18 February 1940, 3; “Deleítese oyendo las últimas canciones en Discos Columbia, CIA Cyrnos, SA,” La Hora, 16 November 1948, 3.
(p.214) (38) . Raul A. Fernandez, From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz, 42–46.
(39) . The Star and Herald reported in 1931 that a Havana-based orchestra opened the Carnival celebrations at the capital’s Club Unión. Later that year, singer Lydia de Rivera performed in honor of President Ricardo J. Alfaro. By the early 1930s, Cuban women also seem to have become numerous in the terminal cities’ cabarets. See Villalobos de Alba, “Bolero,” appendix; “Momo Rules in Union Club as Carnival Commences,” Star and Herald, 15 February 1931, 1, 9; “Metropole Cabaret,” Star and Herald, 22 February 1931, 10; “Nos visita una genial artista cubana,” Estrella de Panamá, 15 October 1931, 1, 15; “Cabaret New Happyland, bonitas muchachas, artistas americanas, cubanas, etc.,” Estrella de Panamá, 3 October 1931, 16; “Tourist Cleaned of $350 in Colon,” Star and Herald, 15 October 1931, 1, 11.
(40) . Buckley, Música salsa, 157, 175.
(41) . Ibid., 35–36; “Te dansant, Los días 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 de 5 a 7 pm con la Orquesta Cubana Ensueño en el elegante Salón de las Palmas, Hotel Central,” Estrella de Panamá, 5 February 1934, 13.
(42) . “Miguelito Cuni actuará durante los carnavales en el Toldo La Victoria,” La Hora, 14 February 1947, 7; “Esta triunfando ‘Cascarita’ en el Palmira,” La Hora, 18 February 1947, 8; “Un año de actuación ininterrumpida,” La Hora, 15 February 1947, 8.
(43) . Estrella de Panamá, February 1945; “Daniel Santos en Panamá,” La Hora, 3 February 1947, 6; Buckley, Música salsa, 49.
(44) . By the 1920s and 1930s, reporting on the decorations became quite common. See a 1931 article on celebrations at the Club Unión and its throne, which is described as a “magnificent work of art” (“Momo’ Rules in Union Club as Carnival Commences,” Star and Herald, 15 February 1931, 1, 9; Díaz Szmirnov, Génesis, 107).
(45) . Foster Steward, Expresiones musicales, 69; “Fueron un rotundo éxito los bailes infantiles,” Mundo Gráfico, 14 February 1948, 20; Schull, Woodruff, and Camarano de Sucre, Living, 82.
(46) . “Carnaval al Día,” Estrella de Panamá, 3 February 1945, 7, 11.
(47) . “En los teatros hoy,” Estrella de Panamá, 12 February 1946, 3; “Hoy en los teatros,” Estrella de Panamá, 13 February 1949, 3.
(48) . “White Savage” (Teatro Tropical), Estrella de Panamá, 13 July 1943, 5; “Rosa del Caribe” (Teatro Presidente), Estrella de Panamá, 3 February 1946, 12.
(49) . Estrella de Panamá, February 1945; Star and Herald, February 1945.
(50) . La Hora, February 1947.
(51) . The Millonarios seem to have been a central part of Carnival in the 1920s and would continue to perform until 1960. In 1925, they even had their own toldo. See Buckley, Música salsa, 71–72; “Ecos de Carnaval,” Estrella de Panamá, 13 February 1925, 3; “Los últimos festejos indican que aumenta la alegría carnavalesca,” Estrella de Panamá, 8 February 1926, 11.
(52) . Marden, “Panama,” 592–93; Schull, Woodruff, and Camarano de Sucre, Living, 74–75. 53.
(53) . Saz, Panamá, 55, 49–50.
(54) . “El Balboa Jardín, lugar romántico para las noches de Carnaval,” Estrella de Panamá, 12 February 1945, 3; “Un paraíso en las faldas de Ancón,” Para Nosotros, June 1943, 22; “Panamá cuenta con un pequeño rincón alemán: el Atlas Garden,” Mundo Gráfico, 25 March 1933, 13; “‘El Rancho’ Preferred by Those Who Know Good Food,” Star and Herald, 11 February 1945, 3; Panama Canal Commission Photos, Brady, 27–28.
(56) . Steward, Las expresiones musicales, 71, 149, 150, 156, 201
(57) . Arquímedes, “Famosos clubes noturnos”; Buckley, Música salsa, 67, 157–59, 168, 180–81, 197.
(p.215) (58) . “This Is Only a Little Goodbye,” Time, 29 September 1975; “Cantinflas pasó por Panamá,” Mundo Gráfico, 20 February 1943, 20; “Los acontecimientos del año que termina,” Mundo Gráfico, 26 December 1942, 10–11; “Fermín Espinosa (Armillita) en Panamá,” Mundo Gráfico, 31 October 1942, 14; General Dwight D. Eisenhower at Administration Building, 13 August 1946, Panama Canal Commission Photos, People, No. 63.
(59) . Panama Canal Commission Photos, Brady, Robert S. Brady obituary; Buckley, Música salsa, 67.
(60) . “‘Jade Rhodora’ in Her Original Savage Dance, Monte Carlo (Colon),” Star and Herald, 25 July 1943, 10. See also Panama Canal Commission Photos, Brady, 30–32.
(61) . “Festejo Apertura de Club Nocturno Montecarlo,” Estrella de Panamá, 28 February 1942, 6.
(62) . “Tonight Big Parade of Stars, Club Chanteclair,” Star and Herald, 13 February 1945, 5.
(63) . “No lo hubiera hecho mejor una auténtica mulata!” Para Nosotros, March 1942, 5.
(64) . Beleño, Luna verde, 36, 246, 248.
(65) . Buckley, Música salsa, 91–92.
(66) . Marden, “Panama,” 607.
(67) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Bruce, interview; Correa Delgado, interview; Torrijos and Dámaris Barrio, “Complejo educacional y artístico,” 10; Héctor A. Falcón, “Del jardín nacional,” El Mundo Revista Mensual 2, no. 18 (December 1923): 16; Manuel E. Montilla, “Brevario del arte.” The details of Falcón’s life are unclear. One source suggests that he was born in 1904 and that he died as early as 1946. A bachelor’s thesis at the Universidad de Panamá, however, associates the painter with 1970s cantina paintings as well as with a depiction of the Twelve Apostles in the Zone’s St. Mary’s Church. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate this latter piece on a visit to the church. For biographical information on Lewis, see the appendix.
(68) . Ortiz, Negros curros; Brown, Santería Enthroned, 32–34.
(69) . Raul A. Fernandez, From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz, 51, 46.
(70) . Brown, Santería Enthroned, 33, 36.
(71) . The two stepsons are Chico and Gilberto Ruiloba. Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Gilberto Ruiloba Crespo, interview.
(72) . Conniff, Black Labor, 66; Censo demográfico 1930, 17.
(73) . Conniff, Black Labor, 66.
(74) . Beleño, Luna verde, 206.
(75) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Gilberto Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(76) . “El decorador de las chivas,” Mundo Gráfico, 11 April 1942, 10.
(77) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Gilberto Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(78) . Raul A. Fernandez, From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz, 50–51, 46.
(79) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Gilberto Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(80) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Gilberto Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(81) . Yoyo Villarué, interview.
(82) . Bruce, interview.
(83) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview.
(84) . Yoyo Villarué, interview; Salazar, interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Reyes, interview; Judiño, interview; Jaureguizar, interview; Erazo, interview; Osvaldo “Mozambique” Quintero, interview; Martínez, interview; Tordesilla, interview; Hormi, interview; (p.216) Herrera, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Concurso pictórico, 18, 21; Vic Canel, “Obras de arte popular urbano,” Crítica Libre, 18 February 1991, 8.
(85) . Gaskin, interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Wolfschoon, Manifestaciones artísticas, 375–77; Colección pictórica, 117; Xerox 79, 84; Concurso pictórico, 16; Lora, “Pintura popular,” 111; Bruce, interview; Jaureguizar, interview; Franco the Great, website; Errol Dunn, interview.
(86) . Biesanz and Biesanz, People of Panama, 67, 65; Wells, Panamexico, 225. On the establishment of the Canal Zone and its authoritarian style of governance, see Greene, Canal Builders, 37–74.
(87) . Beleño, Curundú, 16.
(88) . Panama Canal Historical Photos, 85, 13-H-6 (2).
(89) . Ranfis Ruiloba Photo Collection.
(90) . Errol Dunn lived and worked in Europe and the United States as a commercial artist for the U.S. Army. His brother, Eugene Jr., pursued a career as a commercial artist in New Jersey. Errol Dunn, interview; Eugene Dunn Jr., interview.
(91) . Jorge Dunn, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Eugene Dunn Jr., interview.
(92) . Bruce, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(93) . The résumés of many academic and commercial artists often refer to such programs. See, for example, the biographies of Lloyd Bartley (1913–97) and Alfredo Isaac (1947–), both of whom began their training in the Zone (Colección pintórica, 108; Concurso pictórico, 14). For further discussion of the Zone’s impact on Panamanian art, see Monica E. Kupfer. “Del cincuentenario a la invasion: el arte contemporáneo en Panamá, 1950 a 1990,” in Cien años, ed. Alemán and Picardi, 47.
(94) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Ozores, “Pintura en Panamá,” 275–76; Madrid Villanueva, Grabado, 27.
(95) . Seco is a popular and locally produced sugar-based liquor. Bruce, interview; Bush, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Ávila, interview; Cisneros, interview; Wever, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Camargo, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Hernández, interview.
(96) . Gaskin, interview; Bruce, interview; Franco the Great, website.
(97) . Gaskin, interview.
(98) . Bruce, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Eugene Dunn Jr., interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Salazar, interview; Reyes, interview; Judiño, interview; Jaureguizar, interview; Erazo, interview; Osvaldo “Mozambique” Quintero, interview; Marco Antonio Martínez, interview; Tordesilla, interview; Hormi, interview; Herrera Fuller, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Concurso pictórico, 18; Vic Canel, “Obras de arte popular urbano,” Crítica Libre, 18 February 1991, 8.
(99) . José Manuel Zabala (1920–) was an academically trained artist who studied under Humberto Ivaldi at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura. Zabala later traveled to Argentina with his friend, Alfredo Sinclair, and enrolled at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes Ernesto de la Cárcova. The two had previously worked in a shop constructing neon lights in Panama City. After his return to the isthmus in the early 1950s, Zabala abandoned “artistic painting” and devoted himself to commercial endeavors. Madrid Villanueva describes Zabala as one of the “pioneers” of printmaking in Panama. See Ozores, “Pintura en Panamá,” 275; Madrid Villanueva, Grabado, 27.
(100) . Gaskin, interview; Bruce, interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Camargo, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Martínez, interview; Tordesilla, interview; Tino Fernández (father), interview; Hormi, interview; García, interview; Hernández, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Alie, interview; Correa, interview; Jaureguizar, interview; Ozores, “Pintura en Panamá,” 275–76; Madrid Villanueva, Grabado, 27; Concurso pictórico, 17.
(p.217) (101) . Listed among the creators of the floats participating in the 1946 Victory Carnival are a number of well-known academic artists. Among them are the painters Humberto Ivaldi and Juan Bautista Jenine, the photographer Francisco Narbona, and the sculptor Leoncio Ambulo. Brugiati, Sabino, Falcón, and José Aranda Klee were several of the event’s popular artists. Interesting, Gilberto Lewis, the son of Roberto Lewis, also created a float for the occasion. He would continue to design the vehicles over the next two decades and would become one of Carnival’s most celebrated figures. Students from the Escuela de Artes y Oficios were contracted to make street decorations. See “Notas del Carnaval,” Estrella de Panamá, 19 February 1946, 3; “Los periodistas tendrán su reina en el carnaval,” Estrella de Panamá, 21 February 1946, 1, 5; “Gráficos del carnival de la Victoria,” Mundo Gráfico, 9 March 1946, 20; “Gráficas de la coronación de S.M. Gladys II,” Estrella de Panamá, 21 February 1939, 1; “Italo A. Brugiati,” Expresión: Revista Chiricana de Arte y Cultura, August–September–October 1984, 16; “Gilberto Lewis,” www.critica.com.pa/archivo/05212001/nac03.html (accessed 27 March 2008); Manuel E. Montilla, “Brevario del arte.”
(102) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Bruce, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(103) . “El famoso torero ‘Manolete’ en Panamá,” Mundo Gráfico, 16 March 1946, 20.
(104) . “La Reina Marcela II, huésped de los Leones,” Mundo Gráfico, 23 February 1946, 7.
(105) . Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; “Lucho Donaldo, propietario del ‘Happyland,’ le introduce cambios en su decorado y arquitectura,” El Flas-Lay, 22 January 1944, 1.
(106) . Saz, Panamá, 44; Jorge Conte-Porras, “La ciudad de Panamá en los inicios de la década del 1930,” Epocas, 2nd era, 19, no. 3 (February 2004): 9.
(107) . Jorge Dunn, interview; Gómez-Sicre, Víctor Lewis; Alie, interview.
(108) . Jorge Dunn, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Eugene Dunn Jr., interview.
(109) . Bruce, interview. In the early 1940s, Colón’s Voz de la Victor (HP5K-HOK) featured a “Kiddies Program” that regularly invited local children to perform on the radio. See “Encourage Kids in Coleman’s Radio Concert,” Star and Herald, 16 February 1941, 15.
(110) . Wever, interview; Cisneros, interview.
(111) . Meneses, interview.
(112) . Yoyo Villarué, interview.
(113) . Concurso pictórico, 6; García Hudson, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview.
(114) . The advertisements, head portraits, and cartoons of the period’s newspapers resemble typical popular art creations. In the 1940s, J. G. Mora Noli was a young, self-taught artist who seems to have been very involved in these activities. See “El escultor Mora Noli,” Mundo Gráfico, 2 May 1942, 11; J. G. Mora Noli to Mundo Gráfico, Mundo Gráfico, 23 May 1942, 2; “Rod Badia, Lo mejor en sabor, Lo primero en calidad,” Mundo Gráfico, 23 May 1942, 9. For another example of these drawings, see Max Factor Jr., “Secretos de Hollywood,” Epocas 4, no. 81 (12 January 1950): 28.
(115) . Jaureguizar, interview; Bruce, interview; Gaskin, interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Errol Dunn, interview.
(116) . Jaureguizar, interview; Bruce, interview; Gaskin, interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Concurso pictórico, 6
(117) . Secretaría de Agricultura, Anuario de Estadística, 466; Extracto Estadístico: años 1941–1942– 1943, 2:317, 319.
(118) . Villegas, Estudio, 8–11; López M., “Empresas,” 134–35; Belgrave, “Servicio de autobuses,” 12–14, 50; Earle and Alvarado, “Estudio,” 41–42. See also Rubio, Ciudad de Panamá, 221–22.
(119) . Solución panameña, 55.
(120) . Belgrave, “Servicio de autobuses,” 17.
(121) . Solución panameña, 92, 96.
(p.218) (122) . According to police records from the capital, there was annual average of 142.2 accidents for every one hundred buses between 1947 and 1949. The statistics for the smaller chivas were also alarming. They averaged 51.8 accidents per one hundred units, while the number for passenger cars was just 6.4. The average for all vehicles was 11.1. Similar disparities appear in reports from 1954 to 1957, while the city’s newspapers were filled with stories of speeding and other violations by the public transportation drivers. See Extracto estadístico, 1947–1948–1949, 17; Nuestro progreso, For police reports, see “Noticias Policia” column in El Nuevo Diario (1940s). On the drivers’ pay, see Belgrave, “Servicio de autobuses,” 4–5, 18; Earle and Alvarado, “Estudio,” 38; Cáceres Vigil, “Principales características,” 31–40; Ríos Mojica and Jiménez M., “Acumulación,” 118–19; Cornejo and Flores, “Evaluación y análisis,” 26–27.
(123) . “Que no les quitan los nombres a las chivas,” Mundo Gráfico, 28 March 1942, 20; “El decorador de las chivas,” Mundo Gráfico, 11 April 1942, 10.
(124) . “La pintoresca vida de las chivas y los chiveros,” Siete, 26 June 1954, 14–15; “Un oficina de coordinación para atender al servicio público de transportes sugiere Luis Barletta,” Mundo Gráfico, 3 October 1942, 5.
(125) . “La pintoresca vida de las chivas y los chiveros,” Siete, 26 June 1954, 15.
(126) . On Torrijos’s reforms and the following period, see Cáceres Vigil, “Principales características”; Ríos Mojica and Jiménez M., “Acumulación”; Cornejo and Flores, “Evaluación y análisis”; Vega Franceschi and Chung Martínez, “Condiciones.”
(127) . Hormi, interview.
(128) . Wilkinson, “Arte rodante,” 46, 47.
(129) . Rowe and Schelling, Memory and Modernity, 105.
(130) . Arosemena Moreno, “Algunas consideraciones,” 13; Bertalicia Peralta, “Temas de hoy, sobre el ‘arte popular,’” La República, 26 July 1983; Eva E. Montilla, “La pintura popular en los autobuses,” Autopista (supplement to La Prensa), 18 June 1993, 7.
(131) . Yoyo Villarué, interview; Villarué Photo Collection; “Reseña histórica”; “Donan oleo del Papa a la Catedral,” Villarué Photo Collection; “Júbilo nacional por la presencia en nuestra tierra del mensajero de la paz,” Estrella de Panamá, 5 March 1983, 1, B15; “En tierra hospitalaria,” Estrella de Panamá, 6 March 1983, 1, C1; “Cuando se disponía a salir,” Estrella de Panamá, 6 March 1983, 1, C2.
(132) . Many Panamanians credit the military government for expanding the republic’s cultural opportunities even as it placed clear limits on freedom of speech. As part of its populist political project, the state founded entities such as the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC) and the Departamento de Expresiones Artísticas at the Universidad de Panamá. In 1975, it organized the Concurso Pictórico Nacional Soberanía. Artists gained more opportunities to study abroad, while officials extended INAC’s activities in the interior. In 1977, they established an annual competition in the Ministerio de Trabajo y Desarrollo to promote artistic production among the country’s working class. Today the competition is coordinated by the Instituto de Estudios Laborales (IPEL) and offers prizes in poetry, short stories, painting, and sculpture. Economic changes in the 1970s also tended to fuel this growth. The creation of an international banking sector demanded paintings for new offices and funded the foundation of numerous private galleries. In the 1970s, the banks and the state became important patrons of Panamanian art. See Gálvez Barsallo, “Sinopsis analítico,” 9–10; Primer certamen, 5–6; Concurso pictórico, 13, 32–32; Kupfer, “Del cincuentenario a la invasion,” 44–45; Álvarez P., “Desarrollo pictórico,” 47, 73–74; Arte panameño hoy, 8; Kupfer, Century of Painting, 24–25.
(133) . Hormi, interview.
(134) . Osvaldo “Mozambique” Quintero, interview; Vergara, interview.
(p.219) (135) . David Dell, “A Look into the Chiriqui Hospital,” The Visitor/El Visitante, 4–10 April 2008, 6.
(136) . “Primera Dama.”
(137) . Cisneros, interview.
(138) . Ibid.; Wever, interview.
(139) . Bruce, interview; López, interview.
(140) . Meneses, interview; Yoyo Villarué, interview; Salazar, interview; Chico Ruiloba Crespo, interview; Jorge Dunn, interview; Reyes, interview; Judiño, interview; Jaureguizar, interview; Erazo, interview; Osvaldo “Mozambique” Quintero, interview; Martínez, interview; Tordesilla, interview; Hormi, interview; Herrera, interview; Héctor Sinclair, interview; Errol Dunn, interview; Bruce, interview; Camargo, interview; Tino Fernández Jr., interview; García, interview; Hernández, interview; Ranfis Ruiloba Photo Collection.
(141) . The billboard depicted the pontiff with outstretched arms and read, “Panama’s children receive with devotion your sacred blessings.” The Casinos Nacionales’ employees commissioned this piece. A newspaper article documenting this work referred to Malanga as a “well-known national painter” (“Pintura del Papa fue instalada por Casinos,” Estrella de Panamá, 5 March 1983, B1).
(142) . Guía Ciudad de Panamá, 57; Villarué and Rodríguez Moreno, Pintura decorativa, 61.
(143) . Victoria H. Figge, “Zona Libre de Colón,” in Así es Panamá, ed. Mendoza de Riaño, Jaramillo Jiménez, and Aristizábal Álvarez, 202.
(144) . Sanjur, Panamá, 31. For another example, see Murillo, Panamá, 6.
(145) . “Cosas para hacer en Panamá, Travel Panama,” The Visitor/El Visitante, 4–10 April 2008, 35.
(146) . Guía Ciudad de Panamá, 57. Panama City officials helped write this guide, which was published in Spain as part of the celebrations commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s landing.
(147) . see, for example, Gracey, “Warnings or Dangers”; Barnes, “Using Diablos Rojos.”
(148) . Villarué and Rodríguez Moreno, Pintura decorativa, 28, 50.
(149) . Tailor of Panama, chapters 1, 12. Chapter 12 also features scenes from a brothel with a large interior mural.
(150) . Judiño, interview.
(151) . Red Devil Bar Menu, Vía España, 2 May 2008.
(152) . “Ahora los carros de raspao ofrecen cultura en las calles,” La Prensa, 13 March 2005; Ballesteros, interview.
(153) . Adrienne Samos, “Hacia el gran cambio: arte de los noventa hasta nuestros días,” in Cien años, ed. Alemán and Picardi, 74–88.
(154) . Conmemoración del Centenario de la República, 18, 72; Colección pictórica, 117; Wolfschoon, Manifestaciones artísticas, 375–77; Víctor Lewis.
(155) . Bernal, Pintor panameño, 29–30; Xerox 79, 74; Kupfer, “Del cincuentenario a la invasión,” 46 Luis Méndez was one of the early leaders of this movement, gaining notoriety in the 1970s through the Xerox art competitions. Méndez was born in Kuna Yala and earned a construction degree at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios. Later, he studied medical illustration at Baylor University and worked for years for a prominent Panamanian ophthalmologist. Today, there are multiple Kuna painters, many of whom also began as commercial artists.
(156) . Lora, “Pintura popular,” 110.
(157) . Arosemena Moreno, “Algunas consideraciones,” 13, 16.
(158) . Students at Panama’s private and public universities have written a number of lengthy theses on the topic. See, for example, García de Paredes and Cohen, “Rótulos”; Barahona G., “Evolución histórica”; Villarué and Rodríguez Moreno, Pintura decorativa.
(159) . Heckadon Moreno, “Pintores,” 100.
(p.220) (160) . Sandra Eleta, Sirenta en B, 1985.
(161) . Driven, Archive of the Grupo Experimental de Cine Universitario; Diablos rojos.
(162) . Harris, Art on the Road, 30–43.
(163) . “Homenaje a un arte popular, 23 de agosto al 20 de septiembre de 1983,” Archivo del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Panama.
(164) . Salazar, interview.
(165) . Tomás Antonio Fong quoted in Ramón Oviero, “La pintura en los buses: Un arte popular,” La Prensa, 26 August 1983.
(166) . “Homenaje a un arte popular.”
(167) . Carlos I. Arjona, assistant director of the Caja de Ahorros, speech, 23 August 1983, Archivo del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.
(168) . Julio Arosemena Moreno, “El evento cultural del año, homenaje a un arte popular: los buses de Panamá,” La Prensa, 31 July 1983, 9b; Bertalicia Peralta, “Temas de hoy, sobre el ‘arte popular,’” La República, 26 July 1983; Agustín del Rosario, “De parte interesada,” Matutino, 4 July 1983, Archivo del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.
(169) . See, for example, Alemán and Picardi, Cien años; Kupfer, Century of Painting.
(170) . Eva E. Montilla, “La pintura popular en los autobuses,” Autopista (supplement to La Prensa), 18 June 1993, 7.