The year 1953 was an eventful one as with most of the years ushering in the Baby Boomer generation. Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as President of the United States of America, with Richard Nixon as his Vice President. While there was a flaming Mau Mau uprising in the African colony of Kenya, most of Americans’ newfound joy, the television set, were tuned to “I Love Lucy,” the first real American sitcom.
On my home front in our barrio district of Calidonia in my grandmother’s home in Magnolia Building, I was just seventeen years of age and couldn’t be aware that I was about to undergo a radical transformation. I would soon be goaded by my tyrannical youngest aunt into leaving my grandmother’s home and abruptly going to live with my mother in Colon on the Atlantic side.
The events that led up to this sudden but not rash decision on my part had all the earmarks of a disaster in the making. I think I’ve described my Aunt’s character and her implacable disaffection with us, her niece and nephew, at length, but her continued despotism towards me would get her exactly what she wanted- me leaving the house for good. My sister Aminta, as I’ve said before, had left that unhappy home about two years previous and I really hadn’t heard from her again except when I went briefly to visit my mother in Colon one afternoon on 5th of November. Aminta seemed if not happy, then at least more at peace now that her bullying aunt wasn’t humiliating and physically abusing her any more.
Indeed, I could not realize at the time that I wasn’t alone in my suffering, that hundreds if not thousands of kids, especially teenagers from the Silver community, as we were known in the papers, were undergoing similar experiences in their dysfunctional homes.
Those few of you who had stable homes with loving parents and supportive siblings will have to forgive me and simply learn from what I am relating. This story isn’t about you. It is about the vast number of families distilled from that nefarious and enslaving system left of the Silver and Gold Roll now mostly living in Panama City, Colon and the surrounding suburbs.
It is a calamitous story indeed that would have repercussions on us kids- those of us who would survive- straight into our adult and senior years. If we survived the abuse, harsh treatment on the part of our parents and care givers and the constant feelings of hunger, we would then have to meet the external gamut of hurdles in Panamanian society. Added to our woes at home, we would have to deal with the racial discrimination at school, at work and the continued and systematic dismantling of our already imperiled culture, the West Indian culture, which had added much good to Panama and the United States.
My final decision to escape started out on a warm evening, like so many others, as I was finishing up my bench work at Clyde’s Dental Clinic. I had worked steadily all evening at the clinic after putting in a full morning of doing errands for my grandmother who counted on me.
I was literally exhausted, hungry and thirsty as I hadn’t eaten or drank much of anything all day. I was a few steps from the entrance to Magnolia building when I suddenly looked up to see our Room #44 on the third floor lighted up and my youngest aunt standing on the balcony looking intently over the ledge with her usual eagle’s gaze.
This story continues.