circ 1929 represents the original organizations
of the Boy Scout Movement from the U.K. in
the West Indies.
Even as early as the age of six I had detected the emotional dissolution of my father, a man child directly descended from one of the first Silver Men, Joshua Austin Reid. It seemed to me that the man was reaching into his Soul to find the strength he once thought he had at such a time in his young life. He, I still think, had given his all, just as did all his Jamaican ancestors before him to the Yankee Dollar, and that, perhaps, was precisely what was ailing him.
And so my Jamaican ancestors had continued to give their all since the years of the 1840’s as they’d gone on to plant the seeds of freemen in the garden of America for the cause of the world’s good. A corner of that garden was called Panama, however, not Eden, and it wasn’t God who’d spoken to those men, but Satan, it seemed, since my father would invariably come away empty handed just as his fathers had before him.
This saga of my forefathers reminded me of a book I read on The Saudis by Sandra Mackey. Our Silver Men story seemed just as confused as theirs, of men who relegated religion to a subordinated position in their lives to seek the American Dream. The massive values confusion resulting from an all but sudden influx of relatively large amounts of cash and consumer goods into these two societies that were previously tied to land and family brought in many emotional and spiritual burdens for which their people were not prepared.
History had finally opened the “gift box” and was surprised to find that one Silver Man, like my father, for instance, out of generations spawned in Panama, who owned an automobile, an item that would not fill any part of his being as he once thought it would.
In the meantime, the events that had started in the Zone, a place that time called the Panama Canal Zone, which for the Silver People had become a Police State as soon as the Silver worker attempted to organize their Labor groups, would close in on them. The powers that be would see to it that such unity would bear no fruits that Panamanian Westindian could claim as their own.
The Black Canal Zone where the first generation Silver babies were born, often found my dear father traveling over to the Red Tank Dump site, of all places, in his automobile. He went there to scavenge at the solid waste disposal site to find solace in another endeavor that was not his job. At the Red Tank Dump he would find important food items, unopened and usable canned goods mostly, that he would not have to purchase at the local Silver Commissary.
Since I would be the first one to meet him when he arrived home he would beckon me to get into the car. As we’d drive over to one of his friend’s house out in the areas surrounding the Olympic Stadium he would say to me proudly, “Look at the stuff I just found at the Red Tank dump… good stuff I might add!” Admiringly I would observe him and think, “How clever of you, father! No other Westindian man would have even ventured to look in that dump for things to use or to sell.”
The history of those times, however, would highlight the deportation of labor organizers as “trouble makers” and communist infiltrators. Even those that came down from the United States of America- “the sweet land of liberty”- to aid the stricken Silver Roll workers would be barred from ever setting foot in the country of Panama.
This unique labor movement that ultimately became exclusively a Silver Labor Movement had a distinguished history, however, dating back from before the 1925 Renters Strike, and became the stuff for historical reference. Although it would go down as an important chapter in the history of the Labor Movement and recognized by most of the noted Panamanian historians of our day, the Silver Men of the Canal Zone of the early 1940-1950s and their achievements would be soon forgotten.
An incident that would lodge itself as a large benchmark in my childhood memory, however, and understandably so, was one that would start on an evening that a young Westindian man showed up at our door to speak to my mother. “Miss Rosa, the Scout Master said if I could take Juni to scout meeting tonight?” My mother answered, “And where this meeting supposed to be?” “At the Jamaican Society Hall, Ma’am, and I will come to get him and bring him back home,” exclaimed the young visitor excitedly. “Sure he can go!” she said as she grabbed me and changed my shirt and helped me with my shoes.
Soon we were off crossing Mariano Arosemena Street and after a short walk we were up the stairs into a large hall that I had never seen before. By the way, the Scouting Movement had its origins in Britain and not in the United States as I’ve always mistakenly believed. Read more about it here.
This story continues.