Undercurrents of the Caste System

I dared to dream about entering and
actually finishing high school but my path
seemed littered with obstacles. Image.

In my last two years in primary school I had made no plans for attending secondary school; that is until 1950 when my experience with Teacher Ana Sanchez when we were out canvassing for the school fair and she opened up a window for me to even contemplate such a notion. I had not considered it possible to continue studying into secondary school given my family circumstances but Teacher Ana virtually lit up the fire in me with an assurance that my father had spoken to her about sending for me someday.

In addition, I would receive another encouraging word from my Godmother, Maggie Moore, a store clerk on Central avenue who would be the first Westindian person living in the barrio to mention a “scholarship” possibility as a means of continuing my education. The idea of going to high school and even finishing might all work out for me I figured.

During that summer vacation I had time to quietly consider the person of my father Cobert Senior, who had disappeared from my life and had been absent for almost four years by then. So fractured had my life become that I was noting that I had even lost the support of my sister Aminta who had escaped from our house in Panama City a year before and gone to live with our mother in the City of Colon.

The thought of going to Colon and joining them also crossed my mind except that it was a place so foreign to me at the time that I wasn’t sure if I could find my way around at all, much less have the stability to go and register in secondary school and simply devote myself to my studies.

For that matter I worried about not being able to venture to start secondary school without the help of my paternal grandmother, Fannie Reid. My issue with my grandmother was her lack of strength and authority in the house as a maternal figure to insist to her children that they support me in getting into and staying in secondary school until I graduated. This may be something that many youth might take for granted today but, parental support is a key factor in completing your high school education.

Although my grandmother and I had been through many learning experiences up until then, by the end of my sixth grade school year I was still uncertain about my grandmother’s role as a supportive partner in this enterprise of mine to finish my basic education.

I reflected seriously about the plight I was finding myself in and how my late Uncle Eric had probably gone through the same situation. Remembering how Eric had practically been handed his high school diploma on his death bed, I perceived something I would later identify as the undercurrents of the racial caste system in Panama. Our failure to thrive in different directions was directly tied to being a member of the Silver Roll and having to carry this excess baggage around and everything that accompanied it.

I was constantly reminded of this whenever I fingered one of the few remaining relics left by my grandfather, Joshua, a leather covered tube that my grandmother said contained dirt from the bottom of the Canal, from the bottom of Culebra Cut where thousands of Silvermen’s bodies lay as a testimony to their great sacrifice. And now, forty years after the opening of the Canal, the Silvermen’s descendants were suddenly undesirable aliens and at the bottom of the racial caste system.

Despite my uncertainties, however, I felt that I should make the greatest effort to continue. Also, for some reason, I had the confidence that whatever I did in life I would have a claim on our paradise called Panama since all our Westindian Silver men and women had labored to transform this country into a tropical garden. I was privileged to be living the times my Silver Roll grandfathers had yearned to see, times when the whole world would come to visit the isthmian paradise Panama had become as well as its carefully tended Canal.

This story continues.

 

5 Responses to Undercurrents of the Caste System

  1. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    It seems that every time you were not sure that you would do this or do that, that someone would come into your life and give you the guidance that you needed to continue forward. I am impressed that you could see that guidance because so many people in this world are not able to see that in other people. Thus they continue down a path of least resistance…

    The tube with dirt from the bottom of the canal. Do you still have that in family possessions?

    That is intriguing…

    Kyle and Svet

  2. Kyle and Svet,

    This was an absolute truth in my life; the Lord God always sent a guiding angel my way to help me and I could recognize them only because I learned from one of my grandmother's favorite pieces of advice, "You MUST pray, son."

    I'm sorry to say, I don't know what happened to that tube.

    RR

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