Just as my stepfather was doing at that time, most of my classmates’ parents were working on the Canal Zone. In fact, the American Canal Zone was never far from their lives or from any geographical point in the city of Colon. The Silver Roll Clubhouse, for instance, was that small piece of cultural space that served as a soda fountain, cafe and as a multiservice center offering spaces to members to conduct their club meetings.
It also served as a movie theater where the youth of the Silver Roll gathered on both sides of the wall that separated the American Canal Zone from the rest of Colon to reconnect and enjoy a movie. It premiered the latest movies out of Hollywood and was always crowded with young black people.
On most premiere nights everyone awaited eagerly to see the latest pictures from the states and we enjoyed a unique environment in which all of us young Westindians gathered wearing our new outfits, dresses or what have you and stayed to socialize before and after watching the movie. The Silver Clubhouse was one of the very few recreational facilities available for young West Indians of Colon. We were truly a unique group in our ethnicity in Colon as the majority of us Westindians were the children of the original Silver Roll workers.
I was, in fact, beginning to trace my West Indian Panamanian ancestry to the different townships that had, at one time, sprung up all over Colon’s neighboring districts; areas like Cristobal, Gatun, Puerto Pilón, Cativá, Buena Vista, Chagres and many more. Many of the townships had originally been work camps set up for the silver roll (and gold roll) workers to be close to their jobs as we have explained in our series of articles about the Silver Roll townships.
Even during those years of the 1950’s the same houses that had served the silver roll workers during construction times had become family rooms/ living quarters and become the areas to check into with my new friends to find out what was happening in Colon. But, our familiar Silver Clubhouse was where young black boys and girls flocked to buy fast food and the best ice cream in all Panama. Unlike in later years, none of us black teenagers at the time (1954) were required to show identity cards to prove our right to the “privileges” that allowed you access to all services in the Canal Zone.
No one was ever really denied services in the commissary, for example, or in the clubhouse, because there was a presumption that all the black youth belonged to the Silver Roll. The same held for the inhabitants of Colon since the majority of the Black people were somehow connected to the Canal Zone in Colon. Since these places were really the only spots in all Colon where we could meet I, as part of the herd of Afro-Antillean youth, regularly found myself migrating over to these centers instinctively attracted to the other youngsters particularly on those special nights set aside for them. For the latest in American films and for the hottest fashion trends that came from Panama City and United States All you had to do was to congregate around the Silver Clubhouse.
This was the province of Colon for me. It was a geography and a topic that would come to bore many of us in due time. But,I was glad at that time to extract some joy even if only for a few hours out of the hum drumness of life’s routine. They were the times of youthful dreams and we were highly impressionable as we were hungry for any kind of stimuli. Life in Colon was truly a multicultural odyssey and for a very hispanized kid like me from Panama City it was a world of excitement where I was learning more about the idiosyncrasies of my own West Indian culture as well as the other cultures living in Colon.
This story continues.