has undergone quite a transformation. Above is the cédula-librito
or booklet type which many of my ancestors, Westindian functionaries,
were instrumental in registering. Below is the current version of our cédula
complete with electronic bar coded information on the back.
Both images are thanks to the Tribunal Electoral.
I will admit that Spanish School had succeeded in doing one thing; it had made me more Spanish than Westindian. In those days of primary school the teachers reminded Westindian students at every turn that they should speak Spanish and not English and we all started to do just that; even to the point of denying our cultural heritage as English speaking people.
Of course I was happy that I had been born a Panamanian, although I had never seen my birth certificate and in those days cedulación was not a priority on the official government’s list of assurances for their citizens. Much less, even, for us Westindians. Many Westindian Panamanians, especially the ones born on the Canal Zone, were still running around “stateless” with no “papers” like passports, cédulas or any other type of official I.D. on them, thanks to the 1941 Constitution’s Prohibited Immigrant legislation.
Some lucky Canal Zone (Westindian) families who had connections and the knowledge and means to do it had their children’s papers legalized by having a lawyer take their Canal Zone birth certificates and file them in Registro Civil and they were granted a Panamanian birth certificate in this manner.
Actually, I recently discovered that the children born on the Canal Zone were issued some kind of ambiguous birth document that could not pass for a national identification document since in the place where it says “nationality” it only says “negro.” My own grandmother, in fact, had retained her Jamaican passport and status as a “British Subject;” otherwise she would have had difficulty traveling.
By this time my Grandaunt had passed away just as both my grandfathers, all members of the working Silver Roll. Both my grandmothers, however, had survived. Fanny, whom I knew very well and my beloved Naní in Colon, who knew me as a small child were surprisingly resilient and had survived the Silver Roll days.
With Naní I had a renewed closeness upon the death of my grandfather Seymour Green for whom we shared a great love ever since I could remember. I was living in a Panama that marked the gradual passing of my grandparents who were still British citizens.
My parents, aunts and uncles, on the other hand, all seemed to be in a quandary, being marginalized both as Westindians and Panamanians alike. But, I still had childlike expectations that my Panama- the country of my birth- would change upon acknowledging the likes of me.
I was positive that, given my sophistication and adaptability in skillfully learning both languages, I could show them. The problem was that I had had very little opportunity to demonstrate just how much I knew. In fact, I was sure that I would make it to the University of Panama someday, where ever that university was.
For me, the sixth grade star student, my experiences in Spanish school were becoming something that I longed to put behind me and forget. I looked forward to finishing my school ordeal and leave home as soon as possible and get on with my life.
In fact, life for the son of pioneer Silver Men would reveal a Panama with the classic atmosphere of a boarder town. The frontier city atmosphere that prevailed gave you the feeling that despite the presence of the Panama Canal and all its wonders, my country would always remain far removed from everything modern that was happening all over the world- backwards and stuck in toxic traditions.
The year 1950 had rolled around and was coming to its end. For all adolescent boys or girls it meant that they had arrived at a milestone together as persons of the same age group. We had also come to realize that there were no extreme differences between us even for the Silver Roll experience. We would remain as Black Panama like our counterparts on the American continent, as Black as the Black Canal Zone. “That fact should begin to unite us,” I thought. “But what keeps us together?” I asked myself when we would meet not only at the labor pool lines on the White Canal Zone but at Church and at the Night ‘o Fun’s held on the Black Canal Zone.
In fact, most adolescents slipped into a state of depression as they reached the dream age of fifteen, an age they had always looked forward to all the days of their childhood. Fifteen was the age of wonder when most of them would be seeking employment and for the boys, eligibility to attend dances at the Silver Clubhouse or other places in Panama City.
But, in actuality, things would not turn out that way. The teens during this time began discovering that there were no jobs for them on the Canal Zone or anywhere else in Panama. Would Panama ever change? They were rejected from all directions and it became evident for all of us that there were very few ways available of generating any income at all.
Even in the smallest ways life was becoming an embarrassment for budding young adults like us. Even something so mundane as to purchase a new pair of trousers- real slacks so I could get out of wearing those infantile short pants- was becoming a challenge to deal with. I even hesitated to ask my grandmother for money to purchase these small necessary items that still defined me as a small child.
Fifteen years of age and I was feeling trapped in the bench at school. I found out, however, that all over Panama and the City of Colon Westindian youths my age were abandoning school all together by the age of sixteen.
This story continues.