Growing up in La Boca, Canal Zone, gave me the opportunity to see and know men and women who worked on the Panama Canal during and after its construction, including my father who was born in Gorgona, Canal Zone, one of the many pre-construction towns that today are under water. The Panama Canal had long been built by the time I was born, but in the thirties and forties as a young boy, I was able to listen to the stories of surviving diggers and canal workers. They were not much different from the stories of the three diggers I have written about in Part II Messrs. Leslie, Thompson, and Gallimore. It is well known that these African-Caribbean workers were exploited, mistreated, and underpaid under the system of the Canal Zone in the early 1900s, which was an extension of the prevailing racial policies in the United States at the time. Panamanians of African descent bore the brunt of discrimination and racism brought to the isthmus by the United States canal enterprise. As a boy growing up in the Canal Zone, I always felt like two persons one who was too busy living life to care, and another who was witnessing it, if you can imagine being in a play and observing it at the same time. As a witness, I couldn t understand (until much later) half of what was going on politically, but I knew that something didn t seem right when, as a boy, I couldn t walk through certain (white) neighborhoods without being arrested for loitering, or when I couldn t pick a mango off the ground that fell off a tree that nobody wanted without being arrested or treated like a thief. It seemed to me it was better to fill my belly than to let it rot on the ground. I couldn t understand either why we had to live in segregated parts of the Canal Zone, and why our sections didn t look as fancy with fine brick buildings and lawns, like the white sections with fewer families living in them. I couldn t understand why we had to shop in a different store, eat in a different restaurant, or go to a different clubhouse, movie theatre, or school. I didn t understand why the places where we lived and shopped were called silver and the places white people lived and shopped were called gold and why the water fountains and the toilets were labeled silver and gold and we couldn t use the gold service or drink the gold water. As a boy, I knew all of this was wrong at least the witness in me knew but I did what everybody else did made the best of the situation and went about living anyway. I personally didn t let discrimination bother me too much then at least the person in me who was living and enjoying nature and making the most of life didn t let it bother him. The other person, the witness, was more serious and quiet most of the time, because I pushed him aside until I was much older.
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John Weldon Evans was born in La Boca, Canal Zone and attended La Boca Elementary, Junior High, and Normal Training School during the nineteen thirties and forties. He taught in the Canal Zone colored schools in the towns of Silver City and La Boca, C.Z. until the year 1956 when he, like many other Canal Zone youths, left to further their education and careers in the U.S.A. In the U.S., he achieved a B.A. and two M.A. degrees, and worked as a lecturer, and later an administrator at the State University of New York Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center, where he is currently serving as Associate Director in charge of Academic Affairs.
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