The Issue of Exposure to Culture

A classic Wurlitzer Juke Box of the kind you could find in the cantinas. Image:

Living and growing up in the Panama of our times was always a total paradox. As someone said about being in such a state and trying to get untangled, “To manage a paradox you need to live with it as well as analyze it.” That is what I have being trying to do thus far along with chronicling how it has been with my people, as part of the Silver People of the Panama Canal Zone since its inception.

In other words, the issues in my life have been examples of the life of a barrio kid, an experience that has never been documented and that started with living the life as a totally Spanish speaking kid, while later in life getting to know my Westindian-ness.

Life both on and outside the Isthmus would be spent in maintaining that analytic sense of what had occurred in the past while carrying my identifying mark as a descendant of Westindians. It implied what it meant to be someone that not only belonged to a pioneer family, but brought out into the light the obscurity that remained of the past of my progenitors who were prime movers in the development of a nascent country like Panama.

To be a part of those generations who had been born and raised on the Black Westindian Panama Canal Zone and who were not leaving their cultural experiences written anywhere but for a few newspapers, I always felt a great pressure to share my personal story.  I always felt it an oddity how in my researches I only found reports but no personal accounts. My quandary had started as a child with no outward opportunity to leave my neighborhood. I would further discover that the laws of the country that ruled my life were just as hostile to my person and my culture as the foreign government most of my fellow Panamanian Westindians were running to.

Before my 1952 experience with the marching band at secondary school, the issue of obtaining any cultural experience in the barrios was either gotten over the radio stations or from the bars and cantina juke boxes which abounded in the City of Panama. This cultural experience always involved the imbibing of alcoholic beverages which seemed abhorrent in my youthful opinion. But I could sift through all that and savor the kinds of music I had to recognize as culturally correct. So I listened to it all, although I hated the milieu from which it emanated.

This story continues.

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