generally desolate residential areas
in New York City is what awaited most
Westindians who exodused out of Panama
beginning in the 1950’s.
My school experiences would make such a lasting impression on me that during my life journey I would witness the effects of the accumulated pressures of life on the Silver Roll in the lifestyle of the people from the Black Canal Zone and most of us who were linked to them somehow. The varied manifestations of this phenomenon would not only assume negative patterns in Panama but would follow them into the exodus to the North where age grade brothers and sisters would meet from all over the country of Panama.
The unsavory laboratory which New York City would become during this period, especially Brooklyn and the Bronx, would evolve from the maze of streets of one slum after another. The life awaiting them in their new found “promised land,” would eventually convert them into human wrecks completely addicted to alcohol and illegal narcotics. Their youth would turn to anything that would ease the pain of being born Black and trapped, falling into unstable patterns of life, ensnared by unstable relationships with no vision of a way out. Even the armed forces would become their perpetual enablers as many would enlist in the Service seeking “home,” safe haven and a modicum of stability.
At any rate, in Panama in the year of 1948, we were still children, just minors, looking for understanding and the nurturing spirit that all humans desperately seek to be able to thrive and do well as the family hunts for better and more prosperous days.
It was also the year that I was finally promoted to fifth grade at Escuela Pedro J. Sosa, but I could not shake the feeling of abandonment. I was supposed to be carrying my father’s name, and yet I didn’t feel a part of anyone or any place, especially since I had not seen hide nor hair of my mother for more than three years.
Although I had, by now, settled down to some kind of “home life,” my feelings of homelessness seemed to linger since being with my grandmother was oddly like being with no one at all- she was present but not present and she was certainly no protecting presence to me or my sister.
I secretly prayed that my aunts would be so caught up in their work that they would not come home to suddenly find themselves in the same house with the young slaves they seemed to hate. The fact was that both my sister and I felt like the slaves of the house since we were expected to do all the heavy chores in the home and not ever have our needs and feelings as children considered. Although I gladly did all my household chores, helped my grandmother with her laundry and Susú business and even did the cooking in the household, I never once received any praise or a word of encouragement.
School was only a temporary refuge from my frigid experience at home. In the fifth grade I came back to a classroom firmly believing that anything as terrible as what had occurred to me in the fourth grade with that wonderful example of the teaching profession, who furiously tore up my composition, could happen again; and that was too traumatic to anticipate.
I would say that this is when I consciously began planning my definite escape. At the first sign that manifested to me that I would be better off running away, I would take off. In my daydreams the peace of the bush surrounding the city of Panama sweetly beckoned me to a life in which I could have the freedom and mental stability to take care of myself and prosper, even if it meant going it alone living in a shack made with my own two hands.
The dream of achieving this state of perfect freedom from the emotional and physical abuse I was experiencing- I guess you could call that “home”- gradually grew more real and possible as I grew older and more skillful at fending for myself.
This story continues.