The Canal Zone Was Still a Part of Us

This is the popular Chiva stop in front of Casa Muller or Muller Building in the heart of Calidonia in front of El Cruce. Image thanks to La Critica Libre.

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.

7 responses to “The Canal Zone Was Still a Part of Us

  1. My mother and I this morning were talking about her growing up in Red Tank. She lived in the Titanic building. We had a laugh because our Spanish heritage neighbors we in the Zone called them Vecino. It was not until later when I went to IJA in Paitilla did I realize this was not a person's name but a noun for neighbor. We had a good laugh about this. My father loved La Boca. He was born and raised in Gatun but La Boca was his town. It is strange to hear all this because the Americans did a great job of eviscerating these towns, because unless my parents told me about them I would never know. I still have difficulty placing Red Tank from Chiva Chiva.

  2. Ocho Gritos,

    The word "eviscerate" is very accurate. It's defined as "to take out the entrails of; disembowel" also "to deprive of vital content or force." The second meaning is the best since having dismantled these communities as if the lives of people were superfluous was indeed depriving the community of vital content and force.

    We have set up these web sites in tribute to the Silver People and the Silver Townships to insure that, at least for the younger generations and for the people overseas who care, there is a palpable record.

    Glad to see you back. Don't stay away.:-)


  3. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    I remember this even though a lot off subject. But it is about America and Panama:

    21 years ago the US military dropped bombs on the Central American nation of Panama four days before Christmas Eve. The 1989 US invasion eventually killed an estimated 4,000 civilians and leveled densely populated urban areas. It was vindicated through the notion that then President Manuel Noriega was an imminent threat to Panamanian democracy and American lives.

    Made no sense!


  4. Pingback: Boca ferry | Authenticitali

  5. Yes, The U.S.A invaded Panama 4 days before christmas in 1989 and killed lots of people. That was just wrong. All I can see is jealousy because of the canal not because of Noriega. So sad how money makes people lose their mind and they become less human with cold heart. 🙁

  6. argentina smith

    love reading about these places. I once lived in red tank do you remember “Aunt Bell?

    • Miss Argentina,
      We would love to hear from you about your experiences in Red Tank as well as filling us in on Aunt Bell.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. We do appreciate it.