Guest Post: Sincerely Sicily & Black Panamanian Influence by Tamika Burgess

Title Sincerely Sicily
Author Tamika Burgess
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date January 3rd 2023 by HarperCollins
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book DepositoryBarnes & NobleIndieBound

From debut author Tamika Burgess comes the captivating and empowering story of Sicily Jordan — a Black Panamanian fashionista who rocks her braids with pride — who learns to use her voice and take pride in who she is while confronting prejudice in the most unexpected of places.

Sicily Jordan’s worst nightmare has come true! She’s been enrolled in a new school, with zero of her friends and stuck wearing a fashion catastrophe of a uniform. But however bad Sicily thought sixth grade was going to be, it only gets worse when she does her class presentation.

While all her classmates breezed through theirs, Sicily is bombarded with questions on how she can be both Black and Panamanian. She wants people to understand, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is ready to listen — first at school and then at home. Because when her abuela starts talking mess about her braids, Sicily’s the only one whose heart is being crumpled for a second time.

Staying quiet may no longer be an option, but that doesn’t mean Sicily has the words to show the world just what it means to be a proud Black Panamanian either. Even though she hasn’t written in her journal since her abuelo passed, it’s time to pick up her pen again — but will it be enough to prove to herself and everyone else exactly who she is?

About Tamika Burgess

Born to parents who migrated from Panamá, Tamika has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity. Because of her passion for spreading knowledge of Black Panamanian culture, Tamika has been featured on various websites, podcasts, and panels.

When she is not writing, Tamika is somewhere cozy online shopping, sipping lemon ginger tea and reading, or listening to a podcast.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

My debut middle-grade novel, Sincerely Sicily, features a confident Sicily Jordan, who knows who she is and where she comes from. That confidence gets rattled when she has to give her 6th-grade class a presentation about her culture. It’s then that Sicily is bombarded with questions about being a Black Panamanian. And because she has never had to explain what she’s always understood, she is stumped on how to respond.

Along with plenty of other things that Sicily experiences, gaining an understanding of her cultural background is one of the essential plotlines in my book. That plotline consists of Sicily researching the contributions of Black people and how those contributions developed the Republic of Panama. 

This includes learning that family members actually helped build the Panama Canal. This aspect of Sicily’s life mirrors mine, as on my mother’s side, someone came from Jamaica, and on my father’s side, someone came from Barbados to work on the canal. Delving deeper, Sicily wonders if racism and segregation happened in Panama, as in the United States in the South; Sicily learns that Black canal workers were not paid as much as white/American workers. This form of segregation was referred to as the “Silver and Gold Roll System.”

To gain further understanding, Sicily also learns about Bayano, an enslaved African who escaped the Spaniards and led a slave rebellion in 16th-century Panama. Carried on from slavery times emerged the tradition of the Congo dancers. To this day, these dancers perform the sorrows, joys, and lives of the Cimarrons, who were also escaped enslaved people. The Spaniards gave them the name Cimarrons, which means “wild ones.”

Another contribution explored in Sincerely Sicily is Panama’s impact on what has become the Reggaeton musical genre. In the 1980s, it was referred to as Reggae in Español. What started as artist Renato translating Jamaican Reggae lyrics into Spanish paved the way for Panamanian artists such as El General, Nando Boom, and others to all influence the sound of today’s Reggaeton music. 

African culture continues to be a part of Panama in additional ways, as seen in food, language, and many of the characteristics of the culture itself.

Growing up, I never saw myself represented in books, which is why I feel I wasn’t much of a reader growing up. In school, the books I was required to read featured children my age, but I couldn’t relate. I always wished for a point of reference, someone I could point to and say, “I’m just like them.” But characters in books, movies, and TV shows didn’t look like me, nor did their experiences resemble mine. The publishing industry has made strides in diversity since I was a child, but there is still much work to be done.

Writing Sincerely Sicily was me doing my part to help young readers see aspects of themselves in the books they read. I wrote the book I needed and would have loved to read as a child.

Regarding representation, in learning about all Black people’s beautiful contributions to Panama, it was essential to include them in Sincerely Sicily. Not only as a way to allow Black Panamanians to see themselves shown in fiction but also as a way to spread a profound message to everyone regarding race and culture. 

With that, I have so many hopes for Sincerely Sicily, as I want readers to enjoy this well-rounded sixth-grader’s self-discovery journey, along with starting a new school, fighting with friends, and having her first crush. 

But the main hope is that when readers finish, they walk away from my book with a clear understanding of the African diaspora. The diaspora is vast and spans worldwide. It is made up of people who descend from native Africans yet live outside Africa, predominantly in the Americas, therefore including Latin American countries, with an understanding that race and culture are independent of each other.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!