A Hard Year

Black girls as much as Black boys,
had to deal with depression as it was
very widespread amongst Westindian
adolescents. Image

By the end of 1950 I was almost sure to be graduating from my sixth grade class at Escuela Pedro J. Sosa. And yet, I felt peculiarly imprisoned, in stir, as a prison-like attitude dominated my thoughts. My teachers had a lot to do with these feelings as they were pretty hard faced and indiscreet about openly rejecting the Westindian youngsters like me.

At this particular time I did recall with some nostalgia the English School teachers I had briefly had the good fortune of knowing before I ventured into Spanish School. Although I was ignorant of all the political and media chicanery that was targeting the Westindian community I knew from my experiences with those colored teachers that they faithfully persisted in maintaining their school doors opened for me and other kids like me to come by and just sit in once in a while.

They had been providing this kind of safe haven atmosphere for us kids, in fact, since the 1920’s and were secretly continuing to do so even into the late 1950’s, despite the ruthless political sabotage they were undergoing.

These centers of learning were duly recognized by our community as sanctuaries to the lucky few Westindian secondary students who could manage the time and resources to attend classes. They offered a nightly refuge for study, discussion and even quiet meditation- something of a luxury for many poor students.

Even then as these Westindian teachers were coming under pressure to close their doors for mere economic reasons- the fact that they could not come up with the officially required deposit of $15,000 sent many of them underground, so to speak- would prompt them to place themselves under the sponsorship of some religious organization and become recognized as the very first private schools in the history of the Republic of Panama.

Later in life many of us who had been lucky enough to have received any kind of instruction in these schools would never forget their benign influence and solid example in years to come. Most of the first generation who were trained in those English Schools would come away exceptionally prepared to gain enviable employment on the Canal Zone.

Yet, it had been an arduous year for me emotionally and I continued to tread carefully trying to stay out of trouble. I was strongly leaning towards the idea of following my father and uncles and forget about school and just go for finishing some kind of trade until I could find employment.

Many of the disheartening mishaps I had experienced that had left me branded as a “troublesome” kid with my teachers I viewed as really unwarranted. From the very first week of school in that last crucial year of primary school I had been threatened with expulsion from school in the fist hour I had entered the class, all over some very childish issues. Nothing, it seemed to me, as warranting expulsion. But it had centered around a girl, a Westindian girl.

My only memory of the “crime scene” was that I had been trying to make friends with this Westindian girl to start off on the right foot on the first day of school. I noticed, however, that she was in a foul mood and almost in tears so that I backed off from my original plan. It was then I decided not to have anything to do with her since I quickly picked up her attitude and felt it wiser to steer clear.

The next thing I know is that the teacher says to me in a booming voice, “You leave this class room right now, and don’t come back to school unless your parent or guardian comes in to speak to me!” The girl had apparently told the teacher some story and then sat at her seat looking as if she had been raped, expecting justice to be done.

As soon as the teacher banished me from the school I read on this girl’s countenance the look of smug satisfaction as if it was the most natural thing to be telling lies and then watch me squirm. I continued to stare at her as I left the classroom and exited the school, all the while entertaining feelings of unworthiness and remembering how satisfied that Black girl had seemed at seeing me in such distress. I now faced a great dilemma-what to tell my aunts and my grandmother at home.

This story continues.

One response to “A Hard Year

  1. Ernesto Muñoz Rivera

    Puedo recordar que fuì estudiante de la escuela primaria Pedro J Sosa; entré en el año de 1952, cuando cursaba el cuarto grado. Participé en un concurso de lectura ocupando la segunda posiciòn, en ese entonces vivia en el Barrio de Santa Ana especìficamente frente a la antigua Estaciòn de Ferrocarril, Plaza 5 de Mayo, es interesante que pueda recordar el nombre de algunas maestras y el olvidar el nombre de mi maestro en sexto grado. En 1958 ingreso al recièn abierto Instituto Bolìvar, fuì fundador y luego graduarme de Bachiller en Ciencias en año de 1965.