“On Who’s Backs”

The following article was written by Fred Brooks, a member of our Facebook group Afro-Heritage of Panama.  We loved it as it embodies the same sense of urgency we feel about recognizing the contributions of our Silver People of Panama.  We thank Mr. Brooks for permitting us to reprint his essay here on our Chronicle.  Please read it and share with as many people as possible.

On Who’s Backs

by Fred Brooks

Panamanian West Indians, are forever carved into history. We have all heard and seen the Flintstones caricature, hell we were entertained by it, well wow; have you ever heard of the Canal stones? It’s that stone that was at times dug out physically by human hands, by hands that remain in the deep crevices of one of the “Greatest Wonders” of the universe.

Each one of those Canal stones bears a face, and has the palm print of a human being that was either taken there, convinced to go there, driven by a need a to survive in a different way, and by necessity to earn a living for their families. These Canal stones can be unequivocally, genealogically traced back to someone that is at best two generations past; bearing a slave name like: Joseph, Braithwaite, Calendar, Johnson, Lindsay, Lord, Best, Parris, Welch, Jordan, Johns, Worrell, Blades, Archer, Hilton, Ford, Bennett, Thomas, Wilson, Williams; just to mention a few.

Many of us have scars that will remain. Scars that not even the most renowned plastic surgeon can hide, scars that have been made part of our genetic make up, scars that we must ensure gets passed down truthfully, forever, for this world must never forget the Panamanian West Indians. We are a nonpareil people, we are without equal. History tried to show that other cultures were instrumental in this endeavor, the French and Chinese; but make no mistake; it was built off our West Indian ancestors backs.

It is difficult for me, when I return to our birth place, specifically the communities where some of us where raised; to include but not limited to: Paraiso, Gamboa, Pedro Miguel, Rainbow City, Rio Abajo, Juan Diaz, Colon, Parque Lefevre, Chorillo, Santa ana, Calidonia, Barraza, and for most of our parents Red Tank, La Boca and San Miguel. Communities where it could easily be inferred, that our ancestors were temporarily given the privilege to reside.

This was the same divisive privilege that created a divide to this day; to make us believe, that some of us based on location where better than others. Wow, it was all a chess game and we were the pawns, that never stayed in the game, however were issued a privilege card; wow. Even though these communities to me where like an oasis, they sheltered us for the most part from certain unpleasantries. These communities will always have a distinct smell of a unique type of sweat, a special type of blood, and the sound of a cry of a special breed of people. Even though we cannot color a thought or touch and emotion; the varied indescribable mixture of chilling but thrilling emotions we will always be able to relate to, is because they were passed down vicariously to us by a proud, back breaking, particular people purposely forever. Remember, forever is a mighty long time.

Think of the size and depth of history that; neither historians, politicians, pathologist, cardiologist, nor seismologist; will ever be able to take away from us, the Panamanian West Indian people. They cannot reach our souls, because it’s impelled from within, introduced by a gradual persistence; it was poured in drip by drip-drop by drop.

I can only imagine, because knowledge is limited and imagination is limitless; what it was like living in the condition our ancestors where forced to live under. I cannot begin to conceive the pain and suffering they had to endure, the magnitude of degradation they went through, but through that process, came us; a defined intermediate product. Well folks, it’s time to leave our mark, our legacy, our crater!

Let there be no doubt, there is only one thing that will allow us to fully enjoy every second of our remaining lives; that is wellness and health. I am on it, working out effectively hard, efficiently smart, and tastefully nourishing my body from the inside out.

Freddie Brooks

W.H.E.L.I.O. Work Hard, Enjoy Life, Inspire Others…Remember this it is coming your way soon.

This story continues.

4 responses to ““On Who’s Backs”

  1. Laura P.Thomas James

    Thank you for sharing this essay of Freddie Brooks. This generation is will carry the torch. Keep it moving. Mr. Freddie Brooks is from one of the greatest family of outstanding scholars and educators, music, sports.. the list goes on. So very proud of our people…Happy 2012….Laura -Brooklyn, N. Y.

  2. The long hard chase of RESPECT and REPARATIONS,for the surviving families, and retired SILVER WORKERS, OF THE PANAMA CANAL ZONE,must be forwarded as a HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION, to the UNITED NATIONS. The world, and the vast monetary rewards achieved on the backs of the DIGGERS,OF WEST INDIAN LABORERS, is overdue and must be compensated. RESPECTFUL MR.DAVID L. SMALL

  3. Very laudible, scholarly and descriptive reflections by Mr. Freddie Brooks to chronicle the emotional conflicts and daily struggles that were so admirably endured by our ancestors. At the time, it appeared to be a privilege to live in the US Canal Zone, even as a “second class” citizen. Nevertheless, a more accurate analysis will support the fact that life in the “US Panama Canal Zone” was one of the most deprecating forms of racial segregation, isolation and bigotry as practiced across the US mainland against people of color in every aspect of social development. The practice of “For Colored Only” and “For Whites Only” was very evident in the schools, hospitals, place of work and other social gatherings.

    The recently well acclaimed movie, “The Help” may well be describe the conditions and practices of the governing powers of those living in the very “segregated” US Canal Zone. A more accurate description of the West Indians living in the US Panama Canal Zone may well be of a “refugee” people without a true identity and a country. Except for the proud, deciplined, and fearless tradition of teachers, family members, civic and religious leaders and others who practiced “it takes a village to raise a child” many more talented, “Einstein, MLK, Mother Theresa, Picasso, Madela, Tutu, JFK and yes Barak Obama” would have been lost to our community and race.

    It is also important to note that the Panama Canal Zone was established under the laws and constitution of the state of Louisiana. Therefore, every Panamanian born in the Canal Zone, was born under the flag of the state of Louisiana and the US and in fact was legally born as a US Citizen. Therefore, every dailogue about the “US Panama Canal Zone” must begin with reparation having the same roots of compensation as those Japanese Americans that were rounded up into concentration camps during WWII. Those of us who lived in the US Canal Zone, were subjected to the most abject and dehumanizing form of racial bigotry, segregation and prejudice.

    Not withstanding that some conditions were much better than those of our relatives living across the street on the “Panamanian” side. My maternal ancestors name is Brathwaite and Williams who emigrated from Barbados and Jamaica to Panama. On my paternal side it is Wood and Ford and they originated from Hartford, Connecticut and North Carolina to Panama. Twelve years after the transfer of the “US Canal Zone” to the Republic of Panama, and in spite of the “EPIC” economic success of the country, much remains to be done to correct this social injustice as is now widely practiced against the new generations of “quasi” West Indians living in Colon, the second largest state of Panama. Let the Socio-economic and education revolution begin.

    If you wish to change the circumstances for this new generation of “quasi” West Indians, you can become actively engaged in the effort of the http://www.Panamnetwork.com Sí Se Puede!

  4. Cheryl Berkeley Mitchell

    How ironic, that those of us born on the Canal Zone, under the Lousiana flag, had to pay good money for the “privilege” of becoming US Citizens, a right we already had…who knew! thanks for the information.

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