I was eagerly awaiting the beginning of the school year and, soon, my entrance into Abel Bravo College, as my Westindian people proudly referred to it. By then, however, the ability to find work at all, any kind of honest work, had become one of the prime reasons for the demoralization of an entire generation of black youngsters like myself. Colon, not to mention Panama City, had become a desert of human hopes for young job seekers like me and the many youths I was meeting up with who desired to continue their quest of seeking an education at the “College.”
They invariably all met at the one stadium near the college and sat waching the athletic types organize races, throw baseballs or softballs or javelins and that was the way we all passed long hours in the day or evenings even when school was in session. Opportunities were few and we all tried to avoid looking idle which might turn into a life of delinquency or time in jail. So we met at the stadium so as not to stay home in one’s room, if you were so lucky as to have a room you could pay for on your own which would aide you in your future achievement.
Theoretically, we could enter any school if there was a school open to us, but the fact was that just being able to finish with a diploma in hand was going to be the primal challenge for many Westindian youths like me. To even enter secondary school in those days was a tremendous achievement in itself – Quixotic at times- but to get past some teacher who made it his or her aim in life to thwart such an aspiration would be the ultimate challenge; and there were several of these teachers who made you run their gauntlet.
I was that proverbial westindian youth whose parents had no such aspirations for him; one who was a member of a family who had never taken time to teach him or his siblings anything of even the trades that they professed to have learned. So, I was one of those youths who had arrived in the fair City of Colon with that kind of experience behind me. I had actually gotten thus far after having worshipped at the altar of the National Institute, an institution in Panama City that had been one of the first secondary schools to have been founded shortly after the birth of the Republic.
I even had forerunners in my family like my two uncles, Eric and Vicente Reid, both buried at Corozal Cemetery, who had died as soon as they reached their sixth and final year at the National Institute. With such an unfortunate preamble to my entrance into high school I began to feel that this was the worst time for us black youths to have been born in our history in Panama. I had become one amongst many whose future would be in question and whose stay in Colon had been the result of just running away to find some quiet place where I wouldn’t be interrupted in my search for self improvement.
But, the plague of dysfunctionality had its own characteristics and nuances and its toxin could permeate not only our homes but also our whole being from infancy onward. And so it was that while awaiting such new experiences as I deemed important of meeting other westindian youths my age and also of considering the new challenges ahead of me in secondary school in my treck to graduation, another side of my perception was unlocked. I again turned my attention in the old way I had of opening my understanding to the history of my people. My family was my first showcase in which I would find more clues in deciphering who my people really were and what their roots were in that City of Colon.
This story continues.