Over the years the culture in Bocas del Toro has been changing. Before the 1980s Bocas del Toro had a classic Creole Caribbean culture. It wasn’t till the last 25 years that Bocas del Toro has exploded with development and tourism that has mixed different cultures and created the mutli-ethnic mix we see today: Panamanians, Chinese, Europeans, North Americans and other Latin Americans. Because of this multi-ethnic mix, the local Creole culture is changing and in many ways disappearing.
Bocas Para Todos was created to promote classic Creole Caribbean culture. Below is an interview with Bocas Para Todos president Darla Thomas.
Why was Bocas Para Todos started? Was there any special event that occurred or was it an idea that grew with time?
In the month of January 2013 there was a leadership seminar that was attended by several of the people who now form the foundation.
Community problems and its possible solutions where discuss during the seminar. Some people already had the idea of making a foundation, but did not know to what objective direct it, with so many problems.
The facilitator, Prof. Roberto Jean-Francois, whose seminar I attended last year, asked to follow up on that idea to see how it could be realized and, happily, there was great chemistry between everyone involved so we were able to shape the project that is now Bocas Para Todos Foundation.
What is the goal of Bocas Para Todos?
The main goal is to rescue the archipelago’s own Caribbean culture that has been diluted with the passage of time and the arrival of many people from other places, bringing their own culture. Additionally, we wish that all the children can learn to swim, surf, dive and practice sports, despite their social or economic situation. And, because is a vital issue, we also have environmental education, recycling and gardening programs.
How is Bocas Para Todos going to obtain these goals?
Basically, we will build a bridge between our seniors and our children, so that this information, in the form of stories, anecdotes, photographs, buildings, food and drink, be transmitted to the latter and they can feel proud of being Caribbean. In addition, we will research, compile and divulge as much information as possible of all matters concerning the archipelago Caribbean culture.
What was the goal of the recent culinary event held during the Afro-Antillean festival in Bocas Town?
The purpose of the Expo Gourmet “Natural Bocas Style” was celebrating the Afro-Caribbean culinary heritage of the archipelago, by paying homage to its best exponents and introducing our guests to the delicious food that conforms Bocas’ cuisine.
What changes would you like to see in Bocas del Toro in the coming years as Bocas Para Todo progresses?
I would love to hear all the kids speaking guari-guari! Also, I would like to see that the old buildings were kept and the new ones were built in the Caribbean style that makes our city so unique in this country.
I would love to see more local dishes at restaurants, more cultural events at our public venues such as the parks and the fair grounds.
But most of all, I would love that, when people write about visiting Bocas, they would not only write about the flora, fauna, beaches and partying, but also about the people of Bocas and their culture.
What do you think of the current cultural situation in Bocas del Toro? Are you optimistic?
There is a large cultural penetration of groups, both domestic and foreign, that have inadvertently relegated local culture, either because the young mimic the newcomer or because adults have failed to convey their heritage.
However, there are people making isolated efforts to keep alive the Caribbean culture and now, with the union of young and older adults, living in Bocas, I feel very optimistic that we can join forces to rescue and display it as the gem it is.
What recommendations do you have for people that are interested in getting involved?
First of all, I want every resident in Bocas and sorrounding islands to know that this is not only for people born here. Any person that lives in these islands is welcome to get involved, either as an active member, volunteer or a sponsor. We all can donate something, money, knowledge, skills, time or contacts to this cause. There are a lot of things that need to be done, so all of you who can collaborate, is more than welcome.
Interview by: Angie Whittemore Correa
Photos by: Rafael Williamson