Image thanks to czimages.com
During the trying years in which my Uncle Eric was struggling to get ahead in school, epithets once never known nor used in the neighborhoods of the new urbanized cities to depict Black Westindians such as Chombo, Yumaco, Meco and other denigrating terms would suddenly appear in local editorials in the news media.
The early thirties ushered in a period in which the frustrated and impoverished Latino people from the countryside were used as pawns to do what some renegade politicians could not get the elite class to do. They entered the cities by busloads crossing the brand new La Boca Ferry to bolster the new political “ideals” which turned out to be little more than an imitation of the fascist German ideological movement.
It was a period of time just before the start of World War II in which residents of the barrios of Panama found themselves retrogressing culturally into a less civilized and intolerant communal environment as new ways to harass their once peaceful Westindian neighbors emerged to disturb the public harmony. With the new and more incisive verbal armament gained from the elite class in their bid for power, it seemed as though they’d found a fresh supply of insult to hurl at their once peace loving black neighbors. The added stress that the Westindian families were now experiencing on the Panamanian side of the fence made life chaotic and challenging to say the least.
New neighbors from beyond Panama’s borders were also entering the country and their prime concern was to escape tyranny from their own countries. These families came from Nicaragua, Salvador, Italy, Greece and other South American countries such as Chile and Argentina, in a time when most other countries of our hemisphere were just rising out of the ashes of European colonialism to meet their own versions of tyranny. The Hispanic Catholic Church would be the welcoming source for these new white foreigners. The Church established parochial schools and opened their doors as private educational entities to welcome the arriving clutch of white children, transforming them, almost overnight, into the new elite class.
For any Westindian youth to enter Spanish secondary school at that time in Panama was a major achievement indeed for the circumstances surrounding Westindian relations with the Latino elite was one of the factors that had kept most Westindian youth from being educated. Indeed most Black boys of employable age were not considering entering school but going out to seek some kind of employment, a fact that most English Schools jumped on to better train their students for the work force.
Teacher Thomas’ English School in the city of Panama, at this juncture in history of Panamanian education, became a welcome haven for Black English speaking children who in their majority would be afraid to attend Panamanian public education due to the prevalent air of aggression. In fact, many Panamanians who lived during the time will admit that many of the government functionaries who worked in the fledgling Panamanian ministries and government offices as clerks, secretaries, and auxiliary personnel were Westindians who, more often than not, had been trained in the English Schools.
They were not only excellent office workers who were fluent in English and Spanish, but were adaptable to a working environment, and were punctual, honest and open to instruction.
This story continues.