Harassment Against the Prohibited Immigrants

The image was taken from a special issue of
The Panama Tribune which highlighted the
achievements of some of the more well known
Westindian English Teachers in our community
during the ’40’s.

With my head resting on the desk sitting beside a classmate I could not confide my most inner feelings to, I closed my eyes trying to blot out the memory of the incident in fifth grade when the teacher had unmercifully torn up my masterpiece of an essay.

Laying my head down and quietly contemplating a life without those kinds of pains seemed better all the time, only that the incident with the teacher had taught me that I had been the better writer that year, better than anything that teacher had seen in all the years she had been teaching her precious Spanish class.

Anger kept bubbling up inside me, however, as the memory of seeing my composition falling to the floor in bits and pieces seemed to stay with me. I still couldn’t believe the hard-heartedness of some people, especially those who fancied themselves in the teaching profession. Involuntarily, it seemed, I played and replayed over and over again the incident of that day in my mind.

I had grown more shy around my classmates and reticent at joining any one of them, including my age grade groups amongst the Westindian youngsters who lived in the neighborhood. All I wanted to do was read and write, and if libraries existed in those days in the Republic of Panama, I knew nothing about them.

I was unaware, in fact, that in that year of 1948 some things in the schools of Panama would be changing. Changes or not, however, the damage to my self esteem had almost shattered what remained of my self confidence whenever I thought, as young adolescents have a way of doing, that nothing could ever match the humiliation and evoke such anger as I had felt after that moment in my life. The political changes, even if I was aware of them, had come a little too late for me- or so I thought.

At any rate, up until that time Black Westindian Teachers were still opening new schools and yet others were being forced to close their schools because of harassment from the public school authorities.

My mind raced back a few years to my old English Teacher Phillips, who had all kinds of children in his school down in Wachipali and how the Spanish boys had held me down at his command for Teacher to strap me for coming in late to school. The strapping had worked since I never came in late again, but, more importantly, I thought of those kids of Spanish parentage in Wachipali and how we all sat together, English and Spanish, Chombo and Hispanic, in Teacher Phillips’ school without any assaults, mental or physical, on us because of our race, language or national origin. In fact, the Spanish kids were receiving a first rate bilingual education from the best that the Westindian community had to offer.

Actually, not only Teacher Phillips but other Westindians were trying to keep their schools open, especially for Westindian kids who were being rejected from entering Spanish Schools. Neither my Westindian neighbors nor I were aware that the people of the “Prohibited Immigrant” class, our people, were being prohibited from starting businesses; schools, especially, were targeted with a requirement to the teacher/owners to have a deposit of the astronomical sum of $15,000.00 to receive the license to operate.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Harassment Against the Prohibited Immigrants

  1. I remember that whenever we went downtown and spoke English, the remarks from Spanish speaking natives that Spanish was the native tongue . They did not hesitate to call you Chombo, in a derogatory way. Today everybody wants to learn English , better paying jobs. We still have prejudice in our beautiful Panama. Jobs in ACP are limited for Afro-Panamanians. Yet still we have people that claims to be our "spoke -person¨" stands up and states that we don´t have any prejudice in Panama. ;=(

  2. So true! In fact, today when the news people do public opinion polls on the streets of Panama asking, "Is there racism in Panama today?" most people say yes. Even the Spanish people both black and white skinned admit that there is a lot of racism in just regular everyday life as well as on the job.

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