Panama City Feature

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The Panamanians

You won't spend long in Panama City before realizing that it is home to an extremely varied populace. Thanks to the canal and the country's commercial importance, immigrants flock here from around the world. A walk through one of the city's busy streets will prove just how diverse its residents are.

The majority of Panamanians are mestizo, which refers to the mixture of European and native Panamanian blood that began with the conquest. The second-largest group of residents is of African descent, some of whose ancestors arrived in Panama as slaves, others whose ancestors came from Barbados and other Caribbean islands to work on the canal and stayed. About 10% of the country's population is of direct European descent, a group that includes descendants of Spanish conquistadors, seamen who have settled here, and former American "Zonians" who stayed on when the canal became Panamanian. The capital is also home to significant numbers of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, Arabs from various nations, Chinese, and East Indians, who together control much of the city's retail and wholesale sectors.

Descendants of the original Panamanians, on the other hand, represent 10% of the national population, and most of them live in comarcas, or indigenous territories. There are plenty of native Panamanians working in the city, though; you're bound to spot Guna women, who sell their molas (patchwork fabric pictures) and other handicrafts, as you explore the capital's neighborhoods.

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