Images Mr. Oswald Baptiste at www.afropanavisions.com
By the time I came to meet the wider Panamanian community it felt as though we were immersed in a period of isolation and rejection. For us, the representatives of the second and third generation Black Westindian citizens, it seemed to me to be no better for the Black Spanish speaking Panamanians since it had been five long years that we had been living in the city of Panama and I had actually seen very few real Black Spanish natives or known of them by the time I entered primary school.
It appeared to me at the time that the few classmates that I’d been able to get close to treated me as if I was the first Black person they had really had an opportunity to meet and to treat as a friend or equal.
Brawling, however, would become one way for me to get rid of all the hurt I was feeling inside at the time. By then I had started to sneak away to visit the boxing gymnasiums. One was at the Olympic Stadium and the other was at the Marañon area gymnasium in Calidonia. None of those gyms were too far away from where I resided with my aunts and grandmother in one of the first concrete buildings in the city at the corner of Mariano Arosemena and one city block from “P” StreetCentral Avenue where everything good happened. All the big celebrations such as parades, the annual Carnaval, and many political rallies were held on that one and only busy thoroughfare in the city at that time.
That was the Panama City that we Westindian children encountered- the same children that had been kept cooped up in our tiny one-room most of the time. Naturally, the first two years in school became for me the beginnings of assuming my place in the pecking order so to speak. Nevertheless, the visits to the boxing gyms were my initiation into the rudiments of boxing techniques without ever really having someone teach me anything in a formal way about the sport. I would spend hours just watching and trying to remember what the more experienced fighters of my day were doing successfully.
The growing number of Westindian barrio boxers of those times had names that would stick with me for life like Finnegan, Brewster, Kid Zefine, Federico Plummer, Luis Thompson and Scanterbury who lived in my neighborhood and who I admired immensely. However, I can remember the Canal Zone Black rebel who called himself Stanley “Rocky” McKay, and also the flamboyant welterweight Westindian Champion who called himself “Kid Chocolate II” or “Chocolate,” as the people of the Westindian community knew him. However, I, who was known as Junior or “Juñia” by all my Spanish speaking contemporaries and neighbors, was barred from ever attending the nightly fights held at the Marañon Gymnasium. This prohibition had come about since the day I was left alone at home with my grandmother Fanny Elizabeth. She made me know, in no uncertain and very strong terms, especially when my young aunts were not at home, that she was emphatically opposed to me fighting in the streets.
I suppose I had inherited some of my passion for defending myself from my mother. Although I had known my mother to be a slight young woman with a feminine demeanor, she was, nevertheless, a scrapper who took on much larger women and would literally sweep the floor with them. Fighting was just a necessity to gain respect with me.
At any rate, all the kids of the Barrios were fight fans, even the ones that could not really fight well so that some of them attended the fights at night at the gyms. I, however, had to be content to listen to night fights on the radio as the Spanish speaking commentator gave a real blow by blow account of the fights. Up until then I had not lost a fight at school until one fateful day in which I challenged the wrong kid.
This story continues.