For me becoming literate would come during those times of feeling really isolated as a child, as I have mentioned in previous posts. It was also during these moments in my life that I’d lie in bed in the early mornings intently listening to the neighbors’ boys, all Panamanian Westindian, above our little room on Mariano Arosemena Street leave for their Canal Zone Silver School wishing I were one of them. We had known this particular family since arriving in Panama from the home of our grandparents in the City of Colon after the fire of 1940 which destroyed most of the Atlantic coast city.
It would be much later in my life and into my career as a college graduate and professional life that I would really become aware that these were the times that Sydney Young, founder and editor of the Panama Tribune, the Westindian weekly newspaper, had spoken of in his tangles with the Panamanian elite class almost from the founding of his newspaper in 1928. It was probably on behalf of children like me that he and his collaborators took on the entire Panamanian elite media machinery which had used the Westindian workers as pawns in their quest to acquire the great giveaways started in the year of 1902.
Neglected black Westindian children of the generations before us had suffered the same isolation while they virtually raised themselves. Most of them whether living on the American Black Canal Zone or in the coastal cities at either ends of the great waterway, would not have access to any schooling at all so that, by the time they neared adolescence, being around age 15 years, they were already seeking employment.
Life as a small child for me, the older of two siblings, was no comparison to the lives of Westindian Panamanian children of larger families with from 7 to 10 children. It appeared to me that smaller families such as mine were at a disadvantage since the demands of barrio life were such that kids were better off within the protection of a large family.
Also, without the benefit and protection inherent in attending one of the Westindian English Schools we, in our small family circle, felt really insecure and isolated as we were kept locked up behind closed doors most of the day since my mother was not up to the responsibility of keeping us enrolled in school. Also, added to the feelings of vulnerability when our parents were absent made me feel alone and useless as well. Useless since, as a child who obviously could not go out and “earn my keep” because of my age, my young father’s insensitive talk around the house would and eventually did lead to abuse arising from male frustration with the general changing labor situation.
These were the times in which no one ever spoke to us children, as if we weren’t around and the feelings of this man-child was learn from the knowledgeable, but learn fast, and be quick to demonstrate it. However, for a long time no one “knowledgeable” was ever available so pretty soon I was teaching myself to do many things- like reading.
This story continues.