First Experiences in Spanish Schools

This is a bust of the venerable Pedro J. Sosa
that sits perched atop a column with the inscription:
“Ing Pedro J. Sosa, 1851-1898 Valuable factor in the
construction of the Panama Canal”


Some time after going to live with my grandmother and aunts both Aminta and I would be officially enrolled in “Spanish” school in one of the few schools that were being opened by the national government for Panamanian children. My first official school was the Pedro J. Sosa
primary school. Pedro J. Sosa, I came to find out, had been a Panamanian civil engineer who had worked alongside the American surveyors long before the Canal construction by the Yankees was initiated in 1903.

Up until then my Colon grandfather’s readings and opinions had been my prime source of wisdom and the only education that I would really count as valid, better than being in a classroom with Latino classmates that were no challenge. In my case I had been enrolled in first grade at the age of ten years old and I was ready to compete. Competition was heavy on my mind, in fact, as I sat contemplating all the correct answers to what I thought were easy questions the teacher was asking as if she were fishing. Even the kids coming off the Black Zone- students who were much older than me- proved to be no challenge either.

Little did I realize just how much I had taught myself at home while the other kids went to the conventional school. I began to realize that formal education, even in the “privileged” Canal Zone schools that the other Westindian kids attended, had not seemed to make them any cleverer than I was. First grade turned out to be so easy that my attention drifted into other matters, into the subjects that seemed more of what I wanted to know about and were being transmitted over the radio as world news.

There were also all my new classmates to get to know who lived in the neighborhood surrounding the school. It was in the neighborhood around the school encircled by well tucked in two and three story board buildings with their large centrally enclosed courtyards that made that district familiar and interesting like the other Spanish neighborhood I had grown up in not to far from there in the District of Calidonia.

The same old games were now organized by my new playmates that lived close to the schools as new Spanish schools were cropping up all over town. Schools like the Josefina Tapia and the Guillermo Andreve primary schools had just opened their doors down the street from Pedro J. Sosa.

The same girlish game of Ring Around the Rosey was being played by my happier younger sister, as we both made new friends. At first the same game of Cowboys and Indians and the jump rope chants by the girls seemed to make our transition a little easier since our new neighborhood friends were also our classmates. I did miss the Chinaman’s shop and my mother, though, and the visits from her clients as she had tried to keep up her dressmaking business despite her bouts of depression. By the following year (1946), however, our father would be gone out of our lives although we were still grieving the fact that our mother had abandoned us to relatives we did not even know.

In that year I would also begin to feel free of the menacing figure of my father and develop a sense of success since I was skipped one grade and promoted to third grade. Yet it wasn’t for what I knew but because of my age. In fact, I ended up in a class with mostly older Westindian kids who, as I figured it, I could out think and outdo on any test in English or Spanish.

Again, the beginning of the school year would prove to be an academic bore if it were not for the sudden war cry of “Chombo,” which, it seemed, became a fashionable thing to do to us Westindian kids- put us down. I had never before encountered this new put-down so that after having suffered several years of beatings and general mistreatment from my now absent father, I was ready to fight back at school.

The U.S. Armed Forces Radio Station, being my main source of information regarding sports in general, introduced me to my favorite sports, Baseball and Boxing, and would, inadvertently, become my only teacher of boxing strategies used by the champs of the day.

This story continues.

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