The Language and Nuances of the Putdown

I now lived in Casa Magnolia with my two aunts and my grandmother, Fanny.

I had, at the time, just started living with two of my paternal aunts and grandmother in the now famous “Casa Magnolia” one of the largest structures of its time on the corner of “P” Street and Mariano Arosemena Street of the San Miguel Barrio. The building was situated not far from where I had grown up until the age of nine years surrounded by loving playmates and adult neighbors we had known since we were very small kids from Colon.

After my parents’ tumultuous divorce my father had maintained our old one-room for his address and entrusted me to the care of his two sisters, Gwendolyn and Berenice and his mother, my grandmother, Fanny. My mother, of course, went to live with her family in Colon.

Cobert also transferred the same chore of seeing to his chicken business and chicken coop to me to be seen to every night. He had started raising chickens in our small one-room, keeping the box of baby chicks he had ordered from Sears under the bed, keeping them warm with a sole light bulb. Seeing this intrigued me he let me watch while he fed them and treated them until they were grown enough to take to his coop over by the Curundú stadium grounds.

Well, growing up I witnessed the aversion of Westindians at being involved with the Spanish people of their times and how this had precedents that we the Reid kids did not understand. Much later, however, as I grew to understand my Westindian culture I would hear, with more frequency, the disparaging remarks that they too harboured against their Spanish speaking neighbours whom they called “The Paña.” Later on I would be introduced to even more epithets aimed at the Spanish which simply underlined the Westindian aversion to mingling with them such as, “Them Paña nasty no rass man!

I quickly grew up learning how the Westindians would have ways of putting each other down as well such as “Small Island” when the Jamaicans would privately mention something about the “Bayjans,” (the Barbadians) or some such other small islander. I also had occasion to hear Westindian children making up chants like “Bayjan dumpling kill a fa’yah man;” “Bayjan dumpling kill a fireman.” Exactly what it meant remains a mystery to me and why it was a Bayjan dumpling that did in the poor fireman.

One phrase that we would hear from our own paternal side of the family after our parents’ divorce was “Bongo children,” a rather cruel phrase, aimed at us deprecatingly. As I said before, however, in all our experiences growing up with the smaller Spanish children they never did call us names or make us feel unwanted. We received more putdowns at the hands of our own family members.

In our newer surroundings I continued growing up with most of the kids my age that I recognized from our building at 29-47 Mariano Arosemena Street and most of the kids who lived on the adjoining “S” Street including the older adolescents.

The first time I would ever see a fight amongst those adolescents was over the gregarious Ita, the same Ita who had grown up right behind our one-room when we were living with our parents. To me it seemed that she and a boy by the name of Rey had a secret love affair. One night, however, as I sat by my doorway enjoying watching the congregated adolescents, some boy came and challenged Rey to a duel.

Rey, however, being a rather reserved boy with a gentler disposition, did not want to have a street fight and the other suitor to the hand of the lovely “morena,” Ita, ran up and down the street telling everyone that Rey was a coward. “Lets me and you fight like men!” he would say while Rey kept quiet and showed no reaction to him. This enraged the other boy who got brave and shortened the distance between him and Rey to show off his bravery. He was in for a big surprise, however, when he unexpectedly received the full fury of that boy in one hard punch that knocked him out cold. The boy’s family came to pick him up and carried him home looking more like he was dead.

From that day forward, however, Rey would become my hero for his quiet strength and courage although he did not live in our building and had only been visiting there that night to see his lovely Ita.

For me it would not be until I entered the local magnet school, Pedro J. Sosa in Calidonia, that I would learn that I had to fight like a real boxer if I was to survive the streets of Calidonia. I hadn’t really seen a fight before or had known the rudiments of fighting until I was almost ready to enter school after my parents’ divorce.

At any rate, the first fisticuffs fight that I would have with any kid at all would be with a Westindian kid whom the Spanish kids in his neighborhood called “Figurina.”

This story continues.

4 responses to “The Language and Nuances of the Putdown

  1. Hello Roberto,
    Names like mocho hunt, figurina and Casa Magnolia, puts you right in the middle of my life.
    I grew up on Casa Carnavagio and moved to Casa Roma in my teens.
    I knew albert scantlebury very well. I played my amateur baseball in el estadio olympico for a team named Mauricio,
    I hung out by Maria’s shop across from the Nueva Gloria bar
    with vernie, camilochi and jetroe.
    keep up the good work.
    Ken Thomas

  2. Ken,

    Glad to see someone from the old neighborhood! Especially glad to know somebody who also knew Albert Scantlebury. The only thing I wish for is if there were more images (photos) of the sights, people and places in the Panama of those times, especially in the Barrios. Life was sweet despite everything!


  3. otilda olivares

    I used to lived in Calle 31 or Calle T since I was 14 years old. My uncle lived in Mariano Arosemena long time ago. Oh God i miss those times. I live in the USA since 1971; went back to panama in 1973 for seven weeks and since then never went back again. I miss Panama so much, but it is sad how the violence and crime is almost everyday in that beautiful country, something that when i was living there a crime was a suceso del dia. Can U imagine?

  4. Sra. Olivares,

    Many Panamanians have told us how they wish they could come back to Panama as it used to be when the Silver People had more of a presence here. This is precisely why we started this and other web sites so that we could value that cultural presence which was positive and beautiful. As far as the plagues of crime and violence are concerned, they have infected just about everywhere in the world. In a sense, that is why we are here to pray for peace in Panama.

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving us your memory.