Spanish Speaking and Ready

I was more Spanish than the other Spanish kids.
That’s me on the left.

I had been keenly conscious that I needed to be Spanish speaking since I was four years of age and as such I endeavored to become more Panamanian in that sense than my aunts and uncles of both coasts of the Republic.

Even before my graduation I had felt that, concerning my education and educational goals, I had been treated more severely than the other kids. This perception simply made me grow up more mistrustful of the school I still loved although I had been labeled “a difficult student” even for trying to defend myself.

I simply placed those things at the root of becoming entirely Spanish speaking- the price for becoming Spanish speaking, if you will. Nevertheless, after having survived the gamut of emotions, rejection, misunderstandings and whatnot, my general experience with school life had left me feeling capable of attaining anything I desired.

Not withstanding, the reality of my mostly Spanish speaking friends and classmates seemed to be the same. They also were going through feelings of inadequacy although most of us finished primary school together. In sharp contrast, however, the Westindian kids I had met at the start of my primary school years most had almost immediately and entirely disappeared from my life although they all lived in the Barrio neighborhoods I still continued to visit.

I received my primary school certificate a little after November’s holiday festivities that year- 3 of November, Colon Day, Flag Day, etc.- and felt somewhat accomplished. However, by the Christmas holiday season I could not help feeling that my education, as a Westindian, left much to be desired. It was the same with the rest of the kids I was in touch with at school who were apprehensive about their chances of success. Thinking of continuing into secondary education spelled more problems due to skin color, race and social class.

From the beginning of the summer vacation I started to feel a bit cowardly since, for very relevant reasons, I took to avoiding the kids I’d grown up with in my neighborhood. My general way of avoiding trouble was to avoid the streets and thus confrontations with my known neighborhood buddies. I sought refuge inside our two room apartment until my grandmother needed me for some errand so that I would always have a definite purpose to be on the streets.

That year end vacation found me employing evasion tactics in a conscious way. Since it was in that neighborhood that I had experienced the full range of adversity, including the incident with the police officers, I felt more comfortable in putting emotional distance between people and myself. I had lost that trust for people, even my own parents and my grandmother with whom I had lived so closely. My young cousins, however, were still too young for me to worry about just yet.

After my failed attempt to get into night school earlier that year I simply marked time waiting for the day I’d enter secondary school which seemed like another interminable waste of time until I would enter the university. The way for me then seemed long and full of questions about my ability to survive the long wait. With no support visible from my grandmother I decided to exercise patience, act sort of like a trashy paper thrown to and fro by a passing wind in the road.

Teacher Anna Sanchez remained on my mind throughout that summer since she had illuminated greater possibilities given my intellect. I envisioned my possibilities of a university education, in fact, in Panama as I repeated to myself, “I am not going up to no United States to live with that man Cobert Reid.”

This story continues.

2 responses to “Spanish Speaking and Ready

  1. Ha, My Jamaican great-grandparents were furious when my aunt put her younger siblings in Spanish school, and not having them in "English School" as the West Indians of Spanish Honduras called it. In those days West Indian kids, from Honduras, would go to college in Belize. But the man in Honduras who was in charge of enrollment would not help the kids of Jamaican ancestry, so my Aunt put the younger ones in Spanish school so they could go to college in Honduras.


  2. Lenny,

    We really appreciate you for enlightening us as to this part of our history in another area of Central America. I mean, even we, today, don't know all the intricacies of what it was like for people of Westindian descent in those days to try and give their children an education. Your Aunt did the only and best thing she could do at the time.

    She was acting like a truly loving MOTHER who wants the best for her children/siblings.

    Thanks again,