looked back then, before 1952.
Image thanks to their facebook page.
I guess my timing or approach was faulty, however, and for a youngster like me, who promised to become an intellectual, my attempt to get into night school was completely thwarted. The ploy of disguising myself as a day worker, hoping perhaps to pass for an older youth did not work for me that unforgettable night I spent my last dime on bus fare to get to Artes y Oficio vocational school.
My pleading and begging with the professor who met me at the door to let me into the class turned out to be futile since the man threw me out without so much as listening to me. All he said was, “Come back when you finish primary school.”
So there I was forced back into a boring sixth grade day school I had come to detest. As loneliness invaded my soul patience took hold one more time announcing that for me there were no other way. At the time I had no knowledge of any public libraries in all of Panama City. But, I wasn’t alone. I was like thousands of Panamanian children who would find no other formal or informal way of making a living or no programs available to attend any moral, mental or physical needs I felt I had ever since my mother abandoned our home.
I returned to my classroom at Pedro J. Sosa School which I had been trying with all of my might to make a home away from home. Even Pedro J. Sosa, the engineer/surveyor who had worked with the American Canal builders to survey and map out the Canal route, had less meaning for me than the so called Great Liberator Simon Bolivar whose name had great meaning for me. Nevertheless, the school had succeeded in making me feel the harshness of Panamanian bigotry.
In the meantime I consoled myself with feeling fortunate to be still in school no matter how boring I found it. The year was 1950 and it seemed as though this last crucial year was going to be slow in passing. I was surrounded by people, kids really, whom I’d been growing up with, and yet I knew I would never associate with them after school was out at the end of that year; I would probably never see them again as we all went on to join the ranks of the adults.
At this point I was given to thinking more frequently about my own summer vacation as I remembered Pariso (Paraiso) in the Black Canal Zone and trying to stay out of trouble in Calidonia. Suddenly I turned around to look in the back of the class at the few Westindian students in my class that year just to keep them in my memory. Beautiful Albina looked me straight in the face without emotion, sort of like she was too grown up for the likes of me. Our eyes met momentarily and she sort of smiled at me. She had been the Spanish girl I had thanked for saving me from the wrath of the teacher that day of the set up.
As for my Westindian classmates, they all seamed as distant as he was feeling that day. It appeared to escaping something just like me. Virtual starvation for something other than food I thought. My own hunger was for finding other work other than working at the small one room lunch room my Aunt Gladys ran just a short distance from the Ancon Laundry and a section of the White Canal Zone.
“Times have changed,” I thought as I remembered that like most youngsters my age, I could look to having no organized social or cultural recreation available. All sport facilities that could assist in developing the good, that still remained in someone such as him, were without any responsible individuals to guide kids who wandered around in packs seeking some excitement.
I decided I didn’t want to return to Pariso’s bush on the outskirts of the Black Canal Zone as I had done for summer vacation since 1946 when I was in the third grade. I was officially now too grown for that and, what’s more, the adults around me would look at me as though I’d better hurry up and find some way of earning my keep.
Those years leading into the 1950’s would become historic times which no historian would dare tread upon. They were notorious times when the whole machinery of an undefined people, such as we the Panamanian Westindians were, was coming apart at the seams. We were living at a juncture in our history in which the harshest stings of a ruling aristocracy were being felt even at my level at that barrio school. So, there I sat sandwiched between the teacher and my seat mate, a Spanish girl that was surely no aristocrat. But then, this was my experience in a country such as Panama.
This story continues.