Collaborators and Supporters

Message from the Director

VFOA has long been a dream in the making, with the Panamanian core beginning as a seed in 1998 during my first visit to the Isthmus, and maturing over the last ten years during my sojourns to a range of sites across the Americas. Throughout the course of my travels, I have been struck by the richness of the histories and cultures I have encountered, particularly those of African Diaspora communities. As I have journeyed from place to place, however, I have been troubled by the extent to which so many of our histories, these individual and collective histories of experience, are not well known beyond (and even within) our communities themselves. My research, including my book Black Cosmopolitanism, has centered on the relations (positive and negative) between populations of African descent in the Americas, covering areas such as poetry, anthropology, and contemporary music. Simply put, it has become clear to me that we, the people of the Americas don't know enough about ourselves or about each other. We see each other on TV, or encounter each other briefly in other ways, but don't really know or understand the nuances of the histories, experiences that drive our approaches to viewing the world and each other. Consequently, our interactions—whether between West Indian and non-West Indian Panamanians, or between U.S. African Americans and Caribbean people, or between older generations and younger generations within the same community, are not always as enriching or as productive as they might be if we were armed with more knowledge about our own history as well of the histories of those with whom we are interacting.

Professor Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, Founding Director and Principal Investigator

Professor Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo is Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, with secondary appointments and affiliations with the Department of Teaching and Learning, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies. She earned her Ph.D. from Duke University in 1999.

Professor Nwankwo's research has focused on encounters among African-American, Latin American, and West Indian peoples in the areas of culture, identity, and ideology with the goal of understanding the persistent barriers to progressive cross-group engagements. Her book, Black Cosmopolitanism (2005), is a comparative study of people of African descent in Cuba, the U.S., and the British West Indies in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. In it, she reveals that fear fostered by the revolution determined and has continued to determine the ways African-descended peoples in this hemisphere relate to each other, as well as to other American populations. The implications of this analysis attempts to understand whether relations between U.S. African Americans and recent immigrants to the U.S. are significant.

Professor Nwankwo has also provided new insight into U.S. African American-Latino/Latin American-Caribbean relations through articles that have appeared in journals such as American Literary History, Radical History Review, and Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos. Her other publications include African Routes, Caribbean Roots, Latino Lives-a special issue of the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World (edited with Mamadou Diouf) focused on music and dance, and Critical Approaches to Louise Bennett-a special issue of the Journal of West Indian Literature.

Nyasha Warren

Nyasha completed her bachelor's degree in Biology at Oberlin College, her Masters in Environmental Health Sciences at New York University and her Masters in Education from the Arts in Education program at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She is an educator and curriculum design consultant, with a special interest in informal education theory and practice as it applies to a variety of settings including, but not limited to, museums and online learning environments. She has taught middle school Science, English and Social Studies, and has also been an ESL instructor for adult learners at Florida State University. She currently works in the Resource Program at the International School of Panama. Her teaching philosophy is: We are all learners who deserve the opportunity to develop a heightened awareness and appreciation for the world through the well focused lens of lifelong learning.

Rebecca Bernard

Rebecca Bernard is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts where she received her B.F.A. in Film and Television Production. She is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Vanderbilt University. She works as both a fiction and music editor for the Nashville Review. Rebecca is particularly interested in crafting narratives which encompass the unique life experiences of individuals of different communities with an emphasis on memory and preservation.

Destiny Birdsong

Destiny Birdsong is a graduate of Fisk University, where she received her B.A. in History and English. She is also a graduate of Vanderbilt University, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry), and where she is currently working toward a PhD in Literature. She is a writer and scholar whose extensive research on slave narratives and knowledge about the collection and dissemination of primary sources are valuable assets to the VFOA project.

Larnies Bowen

After graduating from New York University with a Bachelor’s degree in Caribbean Studies, Lornies Bowen received a Fulbright-mtvU fellowship to conduct research in Panama. Her investigation on Afro-Panamanian identity as reflected in Spanish reggae music produced an audio-visual history of Panamanian reggae to be used for educational purposes in Panama, as well as the documentary Contra Corriente: The Spanish Reggae Movement

Kari C. Brown

Kari C. Brown is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and an independent consultant in project management and philanthropy, as well as the creator and designer of Kindred Fashion for Social Change, founder of Tal Como Soy (As I Am) agency for Afro-Panamanian talents, and vice-president of the Arnold Walters Foundation for Cultural Diversity.

Veronica Forte

Veronica Forte graduated from the University of Panama, where she is currently a professor in the English Department. She received her Master's Degree in English at Universidad Autonoma de Chiriquí-Panamá, and her Postgraduate Program in Higher Studies at Universidad Latina de Panamá. At present, she is working on the final project for her Masters in Tourism with an emphasis on Asset Management (Gestión Patrimonial), while also completing a Master's Program in Curriculum. She has also taught English at the preschool and elementary level.

Forte is president of the Williams-Sanchez-Schuler-Whitmore (WSSW) Leadership Group, a collective dedicated to providing opportunities for improving the quality of life for youth and increasing their personal knowledge, capabilities, and skills. She is also an active member of the Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP). In all her work, she tries to promote the afroantillean culture among her students and the people whom she meets.

Professor Jean Harris

M. Jean Harris is a retired anthropology professor with abiding interests in the cultures of African peoples in diaspora and the construction of race, gender, and social class. Having grown up in Seattle's Yesler Terrace, the first racially integrated public housing project in the U.S., Dr. Harris is currently collecting oral histories to publish in a book that will be entitled From the Terrace.

Verónica Hidalgo

Verónica Hidalgo completed her bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Food Science at Panama National University. She has completed graduate studies in Project Design and, has a Master's in Manager of Projects from Panama's Inter-American University. She worked as a consultant for the U.N. in the area of nutrition, in a project titled, "Project for the Elimination of Hunger and Malnutrition." She also participated in the food industry of organic products as well as in health campaigns, visiting poor indigenous populations to provide them with health and information. Veronica also participates in social and cultural activities such as those organized by the Christian Medical Social Panamá, Kindred, and Voices from Our America. For Veronica participating in Voices has given her the opportunity to meet wonderful people, and learn about not only the Afro-Caribbean culture but also understand, preserve and pass along to other people everything that involves hearing and respecting the Voices of Our America.

Professor Melva Lowe de Goodin

Melva Lowe de Goodin is an English professor and retired director of the English department at the University of Panama. She is also a former president of SAMAAP (Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama) and has addressed the issues faced by Panamanians of West Indian descent through her bilingual play, De Barbados a Panamá/From Barbados to Panama.


Karin Whitehouse

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Karin Whitehouse moved to the U.S. to pursue a graduate education. After earning an M.A. in Spanish from the University of Minnesota, Karin joined the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University as a Ph.D. student and instructor of Spanish. Her main interests are Subaltern Studies and Southern Cone's post-dictatorial literature. She is particularly interested in testimonial literature and production, and the way these genre unveil hegemonic discourses. Karin joined VFOA in March 2010 and has contributed to the processing of Spanish language interviews.

Katie Zien

Katherine Zien is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at McGill University. She received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary Program in Theatre and Drama (IPTD) in August 2012. Zien’s pedagogy and research focus on theatre and performance in the Americas; specifically, her research addresses the inter-American travels of performing artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the ways in which performance practices have contributed to the construction of ideologies, identities, and bodies of memory in North and Latin America. Her scholarship has been published in Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, E-misférica, Contemporary Theatre Review, and  Global South. For more information please visit: She may be contacted at: )