Amongst the giants of the Panamanian Westindian community, Sidney A. Young represents, without a doubt, the zeal for knowledge and the struggle to defend, to perpetuate and to fix the present in the mind of his contemporaries with the word, one of the most effective ways of constructing the future within the collective memory.
Having been born in Jamaica, he arrived in Panama very young and worked here. Clinging to his dream of reaching the possibility of becoming a journalist and publisher he started out as a messenger boy for the governor of the Canal Zone who, at that time, was George W. Goethals. Soon he moved on to serve as an employee in the Commissary division as a counter clerk. He left this position and decided to work in the city of Panama as manager of a commercial establishment located on the Avenida Central.
The opportunity that he so longed for seemed to come along when he accepted a position to direct The Central American News. He later entered the staff of the The Star and Herald, a bilingual English/Spanish newspaper, as a member of the international cable section. He finally, as part of the body of editors, entered the staff of The Panama American. It has been said that one of the strongest motives for his founding of the Panama Tribune came from something a white Panamanian once told him when he was employed in one of the local newspapers. In so many words he said that despite Young’s brilliance the color of his skin would never allow him to any position of consequence in Panama. This impelled Young to found his own newspaper.
A review of each one of the landmarks in the life of Sydney A. Young will reveal a man who was always eager to communicate with the Panamanian Westindian community, with which he identified and to which he belonged, in his maternal language- the English learned and spoken in the old and distant ex- British possession of Jamaica, where he had been born.
A lifelong Boy Scout, Young, very early on, was linked to the international scout movement, attracted by the figure of its founder Robert Baden Powell, and he contributed to organizing and establishing it firmly in Panama. In 1924 he traveled to England, representing the Panamanian Boy Scout organization. It was due to Sidney A. Young’s efforts, in fact, that I was able to participate in and even look forward to membership in a Boy Scout Chapter in Calidonia in The Jamaican Society Hall off Mariano Arosemena and “S” Streets.
The social thought and the critical conscience of Sydney A. Young began to mature when he came to grips with the true face of life in the communities in which racial segregation was practiced (the Panama Canal Zone and the Black communities in England). It was at this time that he realized that the destiny of the black communities that still did not comprehend that to fight against racism, segregation and discrimination (and that the discriminated man was denied his identity and, what’s worse, forced to renege on himself) is a necessary and inescapable step in building their own identity and destiny as West Indians and Africans.
When he had the opportunity to reunite with the people of his native Jamaica, he found his true destiny: to be a defender and fighter for the collective memory of the black man thrown hither and dither- scattered- upon the beaches of the world. In 1947 he attended a conference of The West Indian Federation in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and established the bases of the ample and radical independence movement for the Antillean colonies.
By now radicalized, he becomes committed and more deeply rooted in understanding the reasons for the oppression of the Afro Caribbean man. He created strong and lasting bonds with the self-determination movements of Africa and the Caribbean. At a time in which the people of the world were raising their conscience to the anti-colonial movement, Sydney A. Young emerged as a pioneer and a champion of those ideas.
The newspaper that he had founded in 1928, The Panama Tribune, he immediately placed at the disposal of the enormous service and worthy cause of Anti-colonialism. The newspaper grew as the dreams of liberty of his people grew and its name and example surpassed our borders. Sydney A. Young died in 1959 without seeing all of his dreams fulfilled, but without him the achievements that the Westindian Panamanian community accomplished would never have been possible and our memory would have been reduced to trauma and shame.
The information for this article was in large part taken from “Sydney A. Young: Defensor de la Memoria,” article written by José Carr for Tragaluz, Panama, 14 May 2000.
This story continues.