The challenge of being both Black and Panamanian
In her debut novel, children's author Tamika Burgess tells the story of a young Black Panamanian girl confronting prejudice in her school
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Born in San Diego to parents who migrated from Panama, Tamika Burgess has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity and Black Panamanian culture.
Her latest novel, Sincerely Sicily, addressed to middle-schoolers, tells the story of Sicily Jordan, an 11-year old Black Panamanian fashionista whose 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?
With a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and a Master of Strategic Communication degree from National University, Burgess worked in advertising until she realized her passion for writing and moved to New York City for a career change.
As she told LA Voyage, she created and produced "Es Mi Cultura," a monthly newsletter that highlighted Black Latinas who proudly acknowledge their African ancestry while staying true to their Latina culture. After 10 years on the East Coast, she moved back to Southern California, where she published her debut novel. It's been a 10 year voyage, not easy at all:
“The biggest struggle along the way was seeking representation for my debut novel. Throughout the pitching process to agents, I received a lot of positive feedback about my writing, but the agents I reached out to didn’t know what to do with a story about a Black Panamanian,” she told LA Voyage.
She finally made it. She is now working on her second book, to be published with HarperCollins in 2024.