The Chombos in Colon

Colegio Abel Bravo circa 1953. Image thanks to an excellent article in La Prensa.

In Colon I was still debating if to be on my own, free to decide everything in my life, or to live eternally pondering over such matters in facing my reality. In Colon I felt like I was infringing upon the lives of my mother, younger brothers and my sister. I was still debating if I should return to my aunts and grandmother and continue my studies at the National Institute in Panama as I still hadn’t gotten that feeling of belonging in Colon. 

In fact, I had already started feeling like I belonged to the capital city. The Panama City of those times had it’s distinction of being a part of that Westindian community which also had ties with the National Institute and all that entailed being a part of and one of its graduates. Nevertheless, here I was instead, looking forward to belonging to the Chombo community in Colon.

Thus far, I had learned that I was right in my perceptions of feeling the pride that the Chombo community felt in its obsessive attachment to such things as calling a “High School” or a “secundaria” a “College.” This was how they viewed things and how they showed respect and pride. By then I had come to share that pride in the youngsters attending Abel Bravo “College” and decided that I would also graduate from that instiution. In fact, what I saw in Abel Bravo was one of the factors that encouraged me to become a part of the people of Colon. And so, I decided to stay, just give up everything that had been familiar to me up until then and trust that the unknown would be just as relevant to my maternal side of the family as it had been for me in Panama. I figured that it would be an opportunity for me to find my place in the elite group of Colon also, as I would be joining them at school very soon.

The days would go by faster than you think, I thought to myself, as I remembered my reception at the National Institute from the admittance professor who congratulated me as he examined my sixth grade report card which gave me passage into the Institute. The fact was that the best students in either school were assigned to the A and B classes. So that, as I had always aspired to admission to the National University of Panama, graduation from either school would do.

By then university life had always intrigued me since I intended to become an attorney at law for I hadn’t heard of anyone graduating from a department of dentistry or odontología, which would have been my other preference. I even noticed a quiet pride in my mother and my stepfather, Bobby Grant, who by this time had shown admiration of sorts for my life’s intentions and that “one of their own” would be a sure shot at higher education throught attending that college.

In the meanwhile the “College” continued to mystify me.  I would imagine meeting a very pretty Colon girl and then seeing how I would fare as her permanent boyfriend.  However, time would reveal that the school had surely become a filter, a filter that would either make or break the spirit of many a West Indian youth who would end up on the streets of Colon since we, as teens of the times, would be the ones to endure the bad times that were quickly approaching the history of our country and the descendants of the Silver People of Panama’s Canal Zone.

Already a quiet migration to the United States since the 1930’s and 1940’s had strated and the blacks of the Silver Roll were the people who were “forced” to immigrate. Many of them, in fact, had been living in the “states” already as had been the case of my father and other people of the panamanian westindian community. There were also the very real obstacles that we, in our age group, had to face in failing to gain acceptance into our country’s National University.

As such, we would have very few professional choices open to us as it seemed that most of the young men and women elegible to be employed would hurriedly try to finish secondary school or become homebound during the day time and hangout in small groups in the evenings.

Although I had very few encounters with people my age before entering school that year, I perceived that most of them were quite capable academically and eligible to meet requirements for entering higher education. Tthey were, however, pressured into either looking for some kind of employment or seek to be reinstated  into “the College” where they would struggle to stay and complete their secondary education despite Colon’s bad economic times. It was not going to be an easy year, I thought, as what I observed distracted me with worry.

This story continues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *