Fly from California to New York, and you are still in the same country. Fly the same distance from Panama to Argentina, and you are in a different world. The two countries are a case study in how different Hispanic cultures can be.
Panama is a tiny tropical nation heavily covered with rain forest. Most of its people are a blend of European and Native American ancestry. Their national dance, the tamborito, is rooted in the music of African slaves brought forcibly to the coast centuries ago.
Almost all Panamanians are farmers; many harvest bananas. Panama’s greatest claim to international fame is the U.S.-built Panama Canal, which runs through the country, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
To protect its interests in this nearby nation, the United States invaded Panama as recently as 1989. Full control of the canal will be turned over to Panama on January 1, 2000.
Just a short flight away from Antarctica, Argentina is nowhere near the United States and has not been closely connected with it. It is a large country, about one-third the size of the United States, in a temperate climate with snowcapped mountains higher than the Alps.
Most of Argentina’s population is entirely descended from Europeans. Its capital, Buenos Aires, is an international cultural center. Argentinian authors such as Manuel Puig and Jorge Luis Borges are read throughout the world.
Many Argentinians engage in sheep and cattle ranching on wide open plains. The gaucho, or cowboy, lives in the national mythology much as Western heroes live in the dreams of North Americans. Argentina’s best-known dance is the sophisticated tango, now danced in ballrooms worldwide.
Despite their differences, both the Panamanians and the Argentinians speak Spanish, and both are Hispanic.