The community of ethnic Chinese in Panama began to form in the latter half of the 19th century. The first group of Chinese labourers arrived in the country on March 30, 1854 by way of Canada and Jamaica to work on the Panama Railroad. By the early 20th century, they had already come to play a crucial role in other sectors of the economy as well; they owned over 600 retail stores, and the entire country was said to depend on provisions from their stores.
As of 2003, there were estimated to be between 135,000 and 200,000 Chinese in Panama, making them the largest Chinese community in Central America; they are served by thirty-five separate ethnic representative organisations.
Their numbers include 80,000 new immigrants from mainland China and 300 from Taiwan; 99 percent are of Cantonese-speaking origin, although Mandarin and Hakka speakers are represented among newer arrivals. In the aftermath of the Tianamen Square protests of 1989, many mainland Chinese fled to Panama by way of Hong Kong on temporary visas and short-term residency permits; estimates of the size of the influx ranged from 9,000 to 35,000.
The latest wave of immigrants are less educated than earlier arrivals, and their presence has caused internal tensions within the Chinese community. Tensions have also arisen due to external factors; the government of the People’s Republic of China contends with the Republic of China on Taiwan for influence among the local Chinese community, hoping to gain formal diplomatic recognition from the Panamanian government. Both sides have funded the building of schools and other community facilities and donated millions of dollars worth of Chinese textbooks.—Source: Wikipedia Encyclopedia