I needed my marching uniform to support my Barrio.


The last semester of 1952 would be the last report card that I would receive from the National Institute. The chain of events leading up to this break with my prized ambition of graduation from this illustrious institution will soon be manifest.  I had always hoped to follow in my Uncle Eric’s footsteps and continue on to my university studies.  But, fate would have it another way.

I had tried maintaining the tradition between my grandmother and me.  After all, it was she who had instilled that ambition in me through her tales of my brilliant uncle. “Hey Toots, you have to sign my report card,” I announced upon arriving home with the document. As was usual with her she was standing over her trusted wash basin on the balcony scrubbing clothes.  She was positioned over that basin as if in meditation mode. “You sign it for me,” she said, as she always did. Then I would go inside and sign the card and come out again to show it to her.

That day, however, I engaged her in conversation purposefully before changing my clothes and beginning my round of chores. “You know Mamí, I’m going to need some money to pay for my uniform,” I said.  “You just look in my purse and get whatever money you need,” she said before I finished my sentence. “Thanks Toots,” I said and kissed her on the nape of the neck, whispering, “I love you Toots.”  Then, as usual she would choops me, sucking her teeth sort of Westindian-like as if some man had been disrespectful to her or had mocked her in some way. It was a little game we both enjoyed playing with each other.

To be honest I didn’t need the money just then, but it was my way of reassuring myself that the money would be there at anytime I needed it. For an adolescent like me in those days, a time in history in which we Westindian youngsters in Panama were more targeted and vulnerable to negative strokes, the simple games I played with my grandmother were a way of seeking some nurturing and support than most persons would care to admit they needed in adolescence. It was very important for me to receive even a minimal show of emotional support.

Then again, I was held captive by persons who rarely showed emotion and few manifestations of happiness.   Happiness was something I had rarely seen in that home.  The only time I really remembered seeing a full show of happiness was when my grandmother won the lottery and that had lasted exactly a few minutes.

In fact, my richest source of support and happiness was coming from my community, my Barrio.  It was from my neighbors and Barrio brothers and sisters that I received the most support rather than from my immediate family members.

During this month of nationalistic fervor here in Panama, I never fail to remember that, for me, it was important to be part of things like patriotic parades because such an act was linked directly to supporting my community in that Barrio that had seen me grow up.

This story continues.

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