in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
This one, like many other educational
institutions overseas, became attractive
to Westindian parents looking for
educational opportunities for their
children outside of Panama.
Since the inauguration of the Canal in 1914 the Silver People of Panama had headed into the two largest urban centers populating both ends of the great ditch. While the Americans had waged war on the European continent they, at the same time, had accomplished one of the largest construction projects left in the Republic of Panama all with the indispensable Westindian labor force to back them up. However, like most of the Spanish speaking people of the Central America and Caribbean area, the Silver People would be left out of the recognition and support concomitant with such a grand accomplishment. They would enter the urban barrios with no infrastructure or policies of acceptance, particularly for their increasing population of school age children.
Right from the start, in fact, during the following year (1915) the Panamanian Spanish speaking population would mount a fierce opposition to the Silver Westindians in their midst. The basis for their fierceness, however, seemed to be misdirected towards a people whose sacrifice and work could be embodied in their brand new national anthem whose poetic stanzas echoed, “Remember the past, Calvary and the Cross” and further on… “Onward with picks and shovels, to work without delay.” Our national anthem had always seemed to me to be directed at the multitude of our Westindian grandfathers and clashed dramatically with the sudden tide of rejection the Westindians would have to suffer.
“West Indians will not assimilate culturally into Panamanian culture,” would be the overriding excuse for the calculated program of repudiation- the “Mount Calvary” of humiliating incidences- that would ensue. The fact of the matter was that throughout most of the Black Westindian historical presence in Panama the Panamanian public school system would flatly refuse to admit the children and adolescents of Westindian ethnicity into their schools.
The youngsters and their parents would meet with an increasingly arrogant and consistently overwhelming attitude of harassment as they would patiently attempt to approach the school authorities to request matriculation of their children for the school year.
This hostile scenario would, understandably, give rise to motives enough for Westindian parents to ship their young children and adolescents off to boarding schools in other countries of the region. It gave rise, in fact, to many cases of Panamanian born students in countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, England and even other places in parts of the West Indies.
This situation eventually gave rise to questions being asked by people in some of those host nations regarding Panamanians and their origins, “Are all Panamanians black like you?” So many of these Westindian children would find themselves growing up away from their homeland and starting out their educational careers in foreign countries while unwittingly becoming the largest representative group of the country of Panama to meet other youths outside of their country. Many people all over the world would begin to automatically identify the black Westindians as “the” Panamanians.
This story continues.