Little did I know that my marching band debut of 1952 would mark the end of our government’s role in providing “totally free” cultural presentations, really memorable events, to the people of Panama.
Amongst them were imported productions made for public consumption and they were of every variety, from dramas depicting ancient Aztec ceremonies, to historic folkloric “Llanero” Venezuelan music and dance. For me and the other kids from the neighborhood it was a time to also marvel at the fact that our tenure in primary school was a total waste of precious time and of our youth spent in useless endeavors so that, in the end, we would be totally ignorant of the essence of our own culture which included our national dances, music and our beautiful national dress.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed those splendid free cultural offerings from other distant lands but they seemed to me more like free cultural indoctrination, events that filled us at last with Ibero-American culture. I admit, the exposure enriched us all- city kids that would never have gotten a chance to hear and see these cultural jewels otherwise. Sadly, however, the general good it had done would later be marred by the shedding of blood of our own citizens.
Although we as kids were not aware of the evolution of the political struggles that had enabled us to receive this exposure to first class culture at governmental expense, to say that I felt fortunate to be alive then would be begging the question because the feelings of being excluded would always get in the way of our joy.
Nevertheless, we Westindian kids could not get enough of this flourish of cultural involvement. Subsequently, many Westindians showed their eagerness and appreciation by actively participating in the broadcasting of these events over the radio in both English and Spanish.
The names of Hugo Wood, Arturo LeConte, Leslie “Chino” Williams gave rise to a new class of radio personalities and newspaper columnists, and the ascendancy of Radio Station HOG and its locutores would be a testimony to our love of being part of the cultural scene of Panama. The art and music that had so long seemed prohibited to us had apparently become available in our popular culture.
This story continues.