Is This All There Really Is to Life?

This is how Escuela Artes y Oficio
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.

5 responses to “Is This All There Really Is to Life?

  1. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    OK! Getting older and wiser but nowhere to go yet! Lets see what happens… 🙂

    Svet wants to know: About the grades or levels of school. She asks about being in the sixth grade. How old is that? Seems Russia does not have the concept of grades and age relation. School is school and all have a right to as much schooling as they can do. She wants to know is the reason that you could not go to night school because of money? As I understand it seems that around 6 years old Russians start school and like in her sons case, he is 22 years old and in the University. It is all considered the same though and he will continue schooling free until he obtains his desired goals. He is a mathematician and looks like he will have free education until he gets his doctors degree.(PHD)She does not understand schooling the way I tell her that I grew up with in America. To her school has not restrictions nor time limits and schooling is a right to all people, free.

    I explained to her everything but I thought you would find it interesting different concepts of life…

    Very good post and you know I will be back.


  2. Howdy Kyle and Svet:

    I want to answer Svet's questions as best I can. First the grades and levels of Schools. Pramary schooling starts also as in Russia from 6 years old even in those times and goes from grade 1, or first grade until the 6 grade or five years of primary schooling. However, my Sister and I did not start school until she was 8 eight yers old and I was 9 nine years of age.

    I was advanced to 3rd grade upon passing to second grade and remained bored in school since that year getting in trouble because of boredom and feeling descriminated agaist.

    If you had been reading I have tried to paint a picture of how racist and cruel teachers were at that time in history. For me as a Black child in the panamanian school system it was like being smart did not matter, they were always eager to keep us black kids in school no matter how good we were at speaking spanish but did not take our English into account although they had English teachers coming in all the time.

    I am proud of the Russian People for making education available, but then again we here in Panama were always ruled under the United State racist system and ours was just as racist as any American system of social justice and violation of human rights.

    As for how I was able to get University education you would have to give me time to get to those days in my life. They are days as shocking and dehumanizing as the days that I spent in Secondary school in Panama City and Colon.

    Always glad to hear from you folks!


  3. I have always thought that Panama was really a double whammy in terms of injustice and discrimination.
    On one hand its home grown regular racist Latin American style traditions that denies or ignores its black/indigenous citizens and on the other side its desire to emulate the old USA brand of racism.
    But living here in the States, it is so sad to see that the latins are more racist than the Americans.
    On Spanish tv, there is no black or mestizo and on American channels, black people and mestizos abound.
    Americans are evolving and the latins are stuck in time.

    With Panama's population changing since the Americans have left and other latins(Venezuelans,Colombians) and foreign whites coming in, sad to say, but I worry about Panama's future when the descendants of those selfish and backward people children grow older.

    There goes another Mexico,Guatemala, etc.

    Then the Panamanian mestizos will have to migrate to the United States in large numbers because I doubt if there will be room for them in this new Panama.

  4. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    "Panama were always ruled under the United State racist system and ours was just as racist as any American system of social justice and violation of human rights."

    I find it amazing that 95% of people I know and that is a huge amount of people! Would not understand why you would say that.

    Sometimes I wonder about people and do they really not see what goes on around them.

    I was "open eyed" at an early age and never shut them. It has gotten me in trouble at times… 🙂

    I just had an email sent to me that told me that:

    "America is the most humane and non racist country in the world present, past and future! They said: You hate (meaning me) America and spread lies about racism in America…

    They even went on to say that: "Some peoples in this world have to have what is called development pains (ie Blacks) so that they can become more socially acceptable. They need to learn their place in the world."

    When I receive such trash, I shake my head and feel sad that man treats others with such disrespect…

    Sorry, some things trigger my attitude and "white attitude" is one of those triggers!

    And I am White. 🙂


  5. Kyle,

    Thanks for the input and I know you get some doozies in your e-mail.

    Actually it doesn't surprise me that so many people, especially Americans are so blind to not only racism but human rights violations right in their own good old back yard. This is lamentable because the U.S. has always been quite remiss in informing people (and enforcing) of their civil/human rights: otherwise, why all those years of struggle with Jim Crow laws and civil rights legislation.

    Stay tuned for a post on all the international conventions on human rights the U.S. has signed and then proceeded to totally ignore them.