Those events of my youth and our history, as West Indian Panamanians, up to and following my experience in Abel Bravo College, had always managed to shock me. It had always been difficult for me to understand that what unfolded before my eyes were the first steps toward madness and family dysfunction in the making. So that all those years in our upbringing had us hauling around all that emotional baggage and, in fact, tripping over it.
In the meantime, we would not develop as geniuses or become a part of a youth born out of healthy experiences which would enable us to unravel and correct these evils imposed on our humanity. They would become for me some of the worse secret sins as treachery and contempt prevailed amongst us, and we were beset by constant friction, giving rise, too often, to bloodshed on the planet.
There were moments in my life in which I felt terribly alienated from my tribe like one of the descendants of Africans suffering the rigors of the Ice Age in a hot tropical land, an incubator as is our Panama. Our country seemed to criminalize us, the youth, and had us believing the prevailing conception of ourselves as common “thugs.” But the times were changing for me in the years between 1953-54 more than I could know although I felt similar feelings as when I lived in the City of Panama.
My constant worry was that I would end up among the boys of my barrrio of Calidonia. I shuddered at the thought of emerging from the cocoon of childhood after being raised angry to wind up among my peers, now adults, who simply couldn’t have disagreements with each other since every man was an island, an angry and quarrelsome island, with a hair trigger temper over the most trivial things.
Ours was a quickly changing urban life style that had forced us, the black West Indian youth, into new patterns of behaviour. Most of them would ally themselves with the Canal Zone and call themselves Zonians. It was the damndest thing, in fact, a sense of being part of the Canal Zone and being protected by it- a chimera. And, most all the youth were in love with that idea. And so, I noticed the herds of black youth roaming the Zone like beasts drawn by some magnetic sense of attraction, or, for what seemed like something weird among humans, an animalism that flourished close to the neighborhoods surrounding the Canal Zone. It contrasted starkly with what had transpired between my classmates and myself at the National Institute, a form of solidarity (if only minimal) and feeling for one another. This certainly was rare among most youth groups of Panama even then, people my age in the neighborhood of those times seemed not to have.
I suppose I had been anticipating the times to come and had become a loner in the process, always seeking to be busy, looking to avoid the inevitable emergence of youth gangs. I went back to Panama only briefly to witness the growing old of my former surroundings, and not in a graceful or positive way. It was like a Don Quijote on his mission to fight the slums so as not to get trapped himself as a child of poverty.
We wouldn’t be sheltered from political assassinations and open disloyalty either. The thoughts of my mother’s disloyalty never left me and I could only see myself as one of the victims of a mother’s neglect- my mother Panama. The acute social disorders among the economic classes were even more pronounced along racial lines. Being the most vulnerable, we found it difficult to maintain a semblance of optimism. The coming decades would give rise to more social stagnation which would trigger the movement of an entire population. It looked like we would suffer more desolation in our teenage years.
The statistics that shed information from surveys had not yet become popular in those days of 1953, but as we were youthful eye witnesses, we could feel the problems and we could look forward to carrying them into another new decade. I would dare to bet that the same social problems that we were suffering, were those same ones that came with our humanity since the times of our grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. Only our community’s problems didn’t fit into any neatly identifiable data.
This story continues.