By the time I was ready to enter secondary school in the early 1950’s the Canal Zone was undergoing radical changes. This is a good time to pause and take inventory.
The nearest Silver Township to Panama City was, of course, La Boca, the once famous community near the La Boca Ferry (old Thatcher Ferry) which was the only crossing open to the Panamanian public over the Canal until the building of the Americas Bridge in 1962. The Miraflores Bridge, the only other crossing, was basically open only to Canal Zone people. La Boca – Silver La Boca– by the mid 1950’s would undergo a dramatic change.
It was essentially dismantled just like the community of Red Tank and several other Black Canal Zone communities. It wasn’t completely “disappeared”, however, like Red Tank which was turned into a CZ dump area, but the residents were ordered to seek residence elsewhere off the Zone and into Panama City. Part of the reverted areas today, La Boca still stands but its once vibrant Silver community was long ago dispersed and left a shadow of what it used to be.
My dear friend and Comadre, a former resident of La Boca as a child remembers the closely knit community that Silver La Boca was and how, when the plans were announced to close down her community, she as well as the entire community became very distraught. There were many Westindian people who never really got over the shock of losing their community- their roots- in the Canal Zone. She recalls fondly how La Boca was made up of a collection of hard working, decent folks…wonderful, nice neighbors who cared about each other.
For us kids growing up in the Barrios, Silver La Boca seemed alone and almost abandoned by now, surrounded by the white Gold Roll Canal Zone such as Amador, the home of a U.S. Naval installation, and Balboa and Ancon which guarded the frontier into a Panama that was still growing.
For Barrio kids the nearby Canal Zone had its attraction and for me in particular it was the incredible variety of Zone Mangoes. No where else in Panama was there a more delicious array of this wonderful fruit than in the American Canal Zone where the Mango trees were delicately maintained and cultivated.
Calidonia, the Black community which had become the contact point for all Silver People from all over the Canal Zone had, at various times, its own contact points in different establishments. One of them was Mr. Grant’s Barber Shop on “M” Street near the much trafficked Central Avenue. In Mr. Grant’s place you could not only pick up a good haircut you could get the latest news, gossip and important happenings in the Silver community. Many missing people or estranged individuals from Panama and the West Indies were reunited with their families through this unique meeting point. Western Union could probably learn a thing or two from the network of news carriers and travelers who would make it a point to stop in at Mr. Grant’s Barber Shop.
But, El Cruce, or the “Crossing” which had been popular for its bus terminal with its colorful East Indian “Chiva” drivers who were unmistakable in their colorful turbans gave all people of the area a view of the Canal Zone and the large Silver Clubhouse at the foot of the swanky American Tivoli Hotel. The word “Chiva”, in fact, is still used today by Panamanians to denote a smaller bus and it is believed to have come from the time of the Hindu drivers who kept an image of the Lord Shiva tacked to the entrance of their small buses to protect them and their passengers from harm.
This story continues.