Part of Both Sides Now

For me the resulting experiences of those days that had just passed me by had left questions that the weekend moments of reflections would help to fill in. But it had not been as cut and dry for me being only an adolescent boy still intrigued by those expressions of kindness towards me. In the meantime, I was more than puzzled at the way things had turned out for me at school. I only hoped and prayed that the time left for me would favor me as well in that month of the final year at primary school.

“It was all the works of God,” I thought when I would catalog what had recently occurred between my teachers and me at Spanish School. It seemed all open for interpretation, I guess, but the events of the day before and the strange promenade leading up to the dance and fair had not been due to any magical Fairy Godmother. These tales would stay with me for a lifetime of waiting before I’d receive my “just” due for being one of the cleverest at that school.

The years prior to my final year had left me with feelings of mistrust in everyone in my surroundings. My teachers, with their hidden agendas, and my guardians, all had been willing to accept any evil said or done to us kids as children who deserved such harsh treatment.

In fact, I seriously felt that the teachers had always tried to change me into something I was not- something that would go totally against my grain were it not for my adaptability. They seemed to have taken on the mission to keep me a Westindian Man although my cultural heritage pointed to something much more. At the time, I had no illusions of being totally knowledgeable about anything either in Spanish or English.

These were times of just wanting to be a kid and wanting to be recognized for what I could achieve. I knew, however, that it was indispensable for me to remember what I had learned from both sides of the society I had inherited; I was especially cognizant of the hidden ideas or notions I had met at school, where I had noticed that the teachers were refusing to accept Westindian Negro kids as equal with the rest of children. I’d learned to turn my feelings of resentment into a game plan for survival amongst the society that surrounded me.

In the meantime, I seemed to be stuck with the behavior I was forced to display at school, one of being a loner afraid to make any effort at defending myself or openly showing what I knew. I was all too familiar with the customary accusatory attitude towards us Westindian kids in the environment at school. The teachers, members of the educated Spanish people were also stuck on their perception of Westindian people as being from a culture too foreign to them. I had witnessed the oft repeated, or rather barked, phrase, “Speak Spanish you are in a Spanish country!” coming from the Spanish teachers aimed at Westindian kids.

Then there were my peers to deal with. There were numerous occasions in which I noticed boys my age “befriending” me just to get closer to me and take the opportunity to comment on the strange color of my skin, or my “unnatural” hair. My attempts at isolating myself, in fact, seemed to be just what the teachers wanted me to do, pigeon holing me into the idea they had of what a Black Westindian child should be.

At any rate, I remembered my rare encounters with the “Spanish” Black kids whose heritage was in Panama from colonial times. Funny, but it was like meeting up with some kind of aboriginal visitor who dared make an appearance in the hostile territory of our Republic. While I was at school once I met a black boy from Darien.

At the time I wanted to know more about that “Darien” that I had heard my grandmother, Fanny, refer to in her ramblings about ancestors who, after becoming fed up with their treatment on the Zone, had taken their chances and settled in “Deerien.” Shortly after making his acquaintance, however, I never saw nor heard from this rather quiet and reserved boy again. It’s as if he had vanished never to return to that school again.

I didn’t think it strange, however, since I had often felt the urge to run away many a times to be with my sister in Colon- at the very least. But Darien was, and continues to be, in the remoter areas of the Republic and an area of difficult access. These were times, I thought, to be sticking close to my grandmother just as my late friend Miss Polly had ordered me to do. She needed me. Greater closeness with my grandmother, however, would eventually bring me more trouble with my Aunt Gwendolyn who really “ruled the roost” at home.

My search for the closeness that only a mother could provide invariably led me to the Virgin Mary at the Cristo Rey Church. She was the Mother I never had and I felt that she had adopted me in my prayers, saving me from further abuse from my cruel and violent father. Back then, I had prayed to her, in fact, that God would release my Uncle Eric Reid, so that he would come and be by my side as my angel to help me get through my secondary education. I was sure of Eric’s presence in Heaven and of his pleading for me before the throne of God. It was Eric’s Spirit that had helped me to retain what I had wanted to learn.

I reminisced about the events leading up to my having to come to live with my paternal grandmother and my Aunts. My thoughts could not go beyond the present time in which I lived and of the implacable feelings of non acceptance in all phases of Panamanian life.

The conflict within my thoughts included those of assimilating and being completely Spanish. The idealism of being a surviving patriot and the notion of patriotism also filled my childlike mind now.

However, the times and circumstances times demanded that I choose, or rather settle for, a marginal style of life if I were to survive at this juncture, or opt to go to the Canal Zone to seek employment instead of remaining in the Panama of my birth to suffer poverty and homelessness.

This story continues.

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