Throughout my university studies in the United States I’d encountered reminders that my advanced educational opportunities were in fact a vindication of the Westindian teachers of Panama, especially so when the irreverence to my Panamanian Westindian roots came into question regarding being part of the African Diaspora in the Americas. However, when assessing the cost to my future and professional career I insisted in believing that in the country of Panama I’d find written traces of these formidable teachers that would aid me in my search.
The years of practising tested methods in oral history and just casually meeting with contemporaries of mine who happened to be Black Hispanics the conversations would often lead to remind me that although they were Spanish Speaking, they too were suffering the same sort of discrimination. Still our experiences as Black Panamanians, overall, would not be too dissimilar as we realized that racism is still alive and well in every facet of Panamanian life at present. We would later meet to reminisce and remember our relationship with the Teachers of yesteryear. The Spanish Blacks would reverence the Westindian Teachers of the neighborhoods almost as much as we would.
It behooves me, indeed, to immortalize our old teachers and especially the ones I personally feel indebted to. I’m compelled to make mention of these Westindian teachers who faithfully persisted in maintaining the doors opened to their schools. It seems to me that this was a format they followed since the early 1900’s until the decade of the 1960’s, when most of us of the second and third generation Westindian youth had left Panama.
Still, despite the demographic changes occurring all around them, they continued opening their centers of learning even during those years of economic hardships. They took it on as a duty and these schools became those rare and publicly recognized places that cultivated good students and provided a refuge for their dreams. We could continue learning while we turned our group study sessions into a mode for socializing and of building relationships that would last forever.
Although the Westindian occupied “Board Buildings” that had become a lifestyle for living in the new urban tropics are gone, the spirit of learning is as alive as it was in those old days that saw these English Schools initiate the education of Black youngsters in a country devoid of a public education system. It would take a very long time for the people of Panama to see private bilingual education blossom in their midst. However, finally we are recognizing that the first Private Schools in the country started with the Westindian English Schools and did make the government stand up and take notice that they were in need of private education in the country.
Although my experiences with Westindian English Schools were rather limited due to the dysfunction in my own family which precluded my attendance to many of them to the extent I would have liked, I experienced enough to know their absolute worth in my life and how they prepared me as an adult. Our English School education coupled with our Hispanic Schools experiences would give us a firm and well rounded enough academic base for us to be able to compete with any college student even in the United States.
The written traces or memorials to my old teachers have been scarce, but I will call on my memory, which still serves me well, in future posts about my childhood as I grew into adulthood and still struggled to maintain what I had gathered from what I had garnered from the English Schools. Were it not for their preparation and patience, I doubt I would have gotten as far, academically, as I have.
This story continues.