Honoring The Fiestas Patrias

Cobblestone streets in front of the entrance to Sal Si Puedes in Santana.

That year of 1952 I’d become aware of just how much pleasure the two days of patriotic activity had given me and a real sense of joy for the first time. This was the first time in my life in which I was not only a part of a grand public ceremony but I had also been included in a highly honored civic observance.

It hadn’t been of the religious or overtly political type of public display, but something that would go down in the collective history of our country. Or so I thought being just a kid.  However, something in me made me stand out more than the average Panamanian kid of my times.

By now the parade had moved out of our Calidonia area, the place where I had grown up. Obscured by the growing crowds on either side of Avenida Central all of us kids from Calidonia, which we used to guide ourselves around the growing metropolis, the scenery changed a bit. As we marched in the area in which I had started to venture since 1946 to take homemade meals to my youngest aunt in the Fuerza y Luz, I kept up the pace as a rookie drum corp drummer, following the rest of the marchers in unison.

Soon I was asked to relieve my veteran friend again whom I had been avoiding for quite a stretch, just enjoying the parade. We passed the historic and very first branch of the old Banco Nacional which no one I knew ever talked about since no one I knew had a bank account. The only banks I knew of were my grandmother’s highly successful Susú and the “Latry” or Sunday Lottery, as she called her traditional gambling activities.

As I beat my drum trying to keep up with the leading drummer, a Westindian boy whose nickname was “Husky,” I fought back a sense of uncertainty. All I could remember was the fear of getting caught up in political shootouts reminiscent of the times when President Dr. Arnulfo Arias’ supporters and detractors would engage in all night balaceras and keep me, as well as the other residents of Calidonia, awake nights listening to what sounded like firecrackers but were real live bullets.

Up the cobblestone streets of Santana we went.  Marching on the smooth cobblestone I recalled how some of my grandfather’s friends would often talk about how it had been Westindian workers who had laid those cobblestones and bricks during the early 1900’s when the Americans were busy paving the colonial sector- Santana and San Felipe.  You can still walk over some of those cobblestones my ancestors laid even today.

However, as a kid as young as ten years of age, I knew this district to be rife with combustible emotion, burning with political upheaval and a sense of sadness came over me. The joy and sense of belonging from my participation in a civic marching display would vanish with the memory.

This story continues.

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