Family- The Flip Side of Labor

A pile of old cardboard like this
was gold to me.
Image thanks to

Throughout the social and economic struggle which, for me, was an attempt at maintaining some kind of foothold on the heritage left by our forefathers, we as part of the Silver Roll people were still suffering as if it had been our own fault for being hold up in one room in some barrio of Panama. Pauperised, the whole community would fight back any way it could, if passive aggression counts in any war without negotiation.

As a youngster I would experience the hardship of being under the tutelage of parents who had to depend on the Canal Zone Silver Roll. The ensuing child abuse and neglect that we would suffer as a consequence would last long into adult life as I still continued wishing that the pain of the past would open the eyes of my parents, and that, as Westindian parents, they could see a way out in the abundant land called Panama which our God had seen fit to give us all.

Sometimes I too forgot that our “promised land” had been fraught with the same mean spirited laws of rejection and we children increasingly became the more vulnerable targets. Although many of our neighbors were decent people, there were those with predatory instincts who would look for any opportunity to prey on us kids who were as unprotected as if we were orphans.

Our mistreatment, that is Aminta and mine, eventually manifested itself in hunger, not only for simple maternal love and nurturing, but in our growing need for food to feed our developing bodies. It was an irony that having a father with a job on the Zone hunger would stalk us daily and we knew that we could not count on our mother to feed us. Her attitude was of a woman who apparently hated mothering and attending to the small cramped quarters in a one room that served as bedroom, living room and kitchen. It was just too much for even us kids to ask of her, or so I thought.

I was bound and determined from a very early age to make my mother see that in us she had allies. In fact, I set out to learn anything I could as fast as I could by first exploring reading and writing, the first thing I had at hand since I remembered how my maternal grandfather used to read to my Naní and me all the time we lived in Colon. These eagerly awaited daily gatherings between the three of us to listen to my grandfather Seymour read the news of the day had, at least, served to bring us together for some kind of positive bonding.

The garbage can area became very familiar to me as I sought to find writing materials to practice my writing. I’d copy any words that I could out of old newsprint and, like a little pack rat, I hid my stuff under the bed telling myself to be patient and learn what the words meant.

During this time I realized that Aminta and I would be home alone most of the time and, under the big bed where my parents slept, I practised writing on old castaway cardboard. Tracing out the letters from news print I would enjoy producing words that I did not yet understand. These words for me held a mystery that I could not resist, the secret, perhaps, to solving many things in life.

When I was not doing that, I was desperately seeking the attention of my parents. These were times that spelled trouble for my father at work and kept at least one of my uncles from even seeking work on the Canal Zone.

This story will continue.

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