Friday, August 15, 2014

Elevating the Voices of the Silvermen; Celebrating 100 Years of the Panama Canal.

A few weeks ago I began Facebook entries about the Silvermen and my family. The entries were a way of bringing you closer to a story that has not been fully told and that of my own journey within this territory we called the Canal Zone.

As I reflected before and after each piece I realized how lucky I was to have been hugged tightly by my family who taught me my worth beyond this so called privilege and made me understand that I am Panamanian of Caribbean descent and the many layers of that identity.

As I grow as a woman, a writer and an activist, I embrace the fact that I loved my childhood and that I was on the receiving end of some privilege but still it was not what we fully deserved for the sacrifices that were made.

So today with a full heart that I have done right for you at this moment in time, I pour libation for your sacrifice, guidance and light and I raise the glass for those who are still standing.

For You I will keep Singing Loud and Clear!

Peace and Love

Entry #1
They call it the Panama Canal. I call it one of the Wonders of the World that carries the sweat of my family. As we move to celebrate 100 years of this wonder, I will celebrate and honor my family, others close to me and my community; for they have defined the place we call 'Patria.'

Leading up to the August 15th, I will share a story, a picture, a song that I hope will bring you closer to the Soul of this journey.

Modestin, Hyatt, Spence, Durant. I call out your name and Welcome your spirit of Resiliency, Hope and Love. Ashe O!
For your journey has been the exclamation point in my narrative, has fueled my footsteps and fed my purpose.
Thank you

Entry #2
Honoring the Unbreakable Pride of African Caribbean Kings-More than 'Silvermen'

Papa can I touch your 'chichón'? Yes Yzette:) ( no one says my name better than my Papa) Tell me the story of your chichon Papa? With his French accent and sharp mind, my beautiful grandfather would share stories of the long hours working in the dark and not knowing when something would explode and if you would survive. He would speak of long hours working without a break but he knew he had to do this, for his family.

Joseph Felix Modestin was from Vauclin, Martinique. He came from farm country and brought that same tradition with him. Papa was one of the great farmers in Gatun. Papa was born into slavery and left Martinque as a teenager. He lied about his age to get on that boat that dropped him off in Colon. This would begin the Modestin, Hyatt story in Panama. He was statuesque as he was almost 7 feet tall. My Papa moved with a sense of pride in what he came from and what he did for his family that was unbreakable.

Grandfather, who is that? Yvette, that is someone from the old country that came to visit. Grandfather you are good with numbers what is your secret? Always remember this, keep it in your head so no one can take it from you.

Stanley Spence was from Mandeville, Jamaica. I later learned that my beautiful dark skin grandfather, the one I visibly look like was a 'Numbers Man' and took care of a lot of people. He was a Lodge man and moved with a sense of style, grace and honor that made you take a second look.

These two men left a country they loved, to seek a better life. They found that in many ways but it did not come easy. They fled slavery and racism and found themselves facing another version of it that made them lean on that self worth, that Pride, that I saw growing up. My love affair with these two men runs deep.

The Silvermen were laborers who knew about sacrifice. They knew they had to turn the other cheek to the racism and Jim Crow Laws imposed on them to take care of their families back home and the family and community they became a part of in Panama.

Silver was presented as the 'less than' object which is what they were paid with for 16+ hours in no more than 10 cents an hour.

My Papa and My Grandfather were never 'less than men.' They were not then and they are not now, for I will raise their name before anyone that doesn't know this truth.

They are brilliant, Proud, African Caribbean men, whose hands were a part of building this wonder of the world.

Entry #3
Honoring the Queen Warriors standing with the Silvermen

Open your hands wide then squeeze them tight. Now punch forward as hard as you can, boom,boom. Always protect your face. Michele, Yvette, you paying attention? Yes,Ata. Felix, you ready. Yes,Ata.
These were my maternal grandmother, Ethlyn 'Ata' Durant instructions on how to fight. She was preparing Felix to go back out and defend himself after being bullied.
My grandmother was FIERCE in a, I am woman but do not see it as weakness, I have unbeatable strength.
Ethlyn Durant was one of the few women in Colon who owned and ran a business. She was proud owner of a Chiva Bus. I saw this sassy woman move with an elegance and a pride that most feared. She was an example of a strong Jamaica and Barbados upbringing. She was about never bau your head to anyone. To be a known strong businesswoman was a big deal back then. To know that one of these woman was my fight loving, sassy, sexy grandmother, well, it doesn't get better than that.

Mama Marie loved that fruit! Can I try it Auntie? Yes, Yvette. You know you were named after her. Yes, I know. Her picture was in every house. We heard stories about her all the time. I kept waiting to see her. As I got older I then understood that Mama Marie had passed away. Stories about her caring for her nine children, her community spirit and her gentle soul were an everyday occurrence in our family.
Marie Hyatt Modestin was a beautiful Martinican woman who loved her family. Although I never met her I walk with her stories and the pride of carrying her name.

While Papa worked long hours like many of the other Silvermen, women like my two grandmothers kept the family and the community together. Let us not forget that next to these Kings stood these Queens, two of them a permanent fixture in my song.

There is a Yoruba verse that says, nothing is complete, love, clarity and sweetness is not present without the presence of Oshun. Ethlyn and Marie brought that presence and for this I raise their name with pride.

Entry #4

For your Light
For your Struggle
For your Resiliency
For your Pride
For your Love
We Salute you Today and Everyday
For you began the journey and we extend it by never bowing our heads
For we will forever elevate You
Proud Caribbean, Afro Antillano

August 1st will now be the official day to commemorate 20,000+ Caribbean workers of the Panama Canal

Entry #5 Rainbow City, Pedro Miguel, Paraiso and Gamboa

We didn't want for anything! Although these communities were the Canal Zone version of Jim Crow, apartheid, segregation it was our version of a loving, supportive, intellectual, hard working Village. Every neighbor took part in looking out for you.

Christmas Day in Rainbow City was hands down the best! Everyone coming out with their version of a holiday get up with whatever toy they had that made noise then off we went.
All these communities were also a visual reality that we could do whatever we set our mind to do because we saw black teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, managers, tug boat captains etc. we could do it all. We had amazing examples of dedicated mothers.

Whatever the intent behind waiting way past the US laws to desegregate the Canal Zone what it did was instill a sense of pride, resiliency, and commitment to never let down the struggle of the Silvermen. To all those who came out of these communities, stand up! Stand proud! Step with certainty into your light.

Entry #6- Calling out their names, honoring the work- Panama Canal 100 Years
Peace all, I ask that after reading this entry, you pause and pour libation. Call out all the names, all the jobs and allow it to be heard in the depth of the waters of the Panama Canal.

In writing this entry, I embrace the gift that I am an extension of many voices. Today my Mother's and my Papa's sing above all.

One of my treasured moments with my mother was going with her to the Asilo de Anciano in Pilón. She would visit the retired workers of the Panama Canal many who did not have families. I was in awe of their grace and the character in their faces.
My love affair with my Papa runs deep within. My Papa passed away on my 15th birthday. Since then I have celebrated my born day and his journey.

I pour this for your guidance and your strength!

Construction worker, Foreman, Locomotive Operator, Ladies Department in the Coco Solo commissary, Malaria Control, Claims Supervisor, Nurse for the Retired Workers, Line Handler, Teletype Operator, Time Keeper, Detention Guard, Canal Protection- Assistant Branch Chief.
Michele-Control House. Yvette- Control House, Gatun Locks main office, Tugboat Office, Maintenance. Felix- Maintenance Division, Industrial Division - Oil, Industrial Division - Carpentry and Fitness & Recreation.

These are the jobs that my family held in the 100 years of the Panama Canal including those of Michele,Felix and myself. As we celebrate this wonder of the world it is important to elevate the sacrifice of our ancestors, the work of our families and even that of our own role in this story.

From the ship in Martinique, to getting off at the dock in Colon, 5th Street, to your hands being a part of this wonder, to Retiring as a Foreman of the Gatun Locks, you, Joseph Felix Modestin began this amazing story.

Entry #7-Honoring this Wonder of the World and the Silvermen- Panama Canal 100 Years

Today we celebrate the wonder of you, The Panama Canal and the journey of many resilient, dedicated Caribbean workers who built this wonder.

To see it up close, to journey through these waters brings us all closer to you. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten. Your journey, your story will always be elevated by those whose are an extension of your greatness.

I dedicate this entry to all of you for paving this Unbreakable ground we walk on. To my father, Felix Zachary Modestin Hyatt, I raise the voice of that young man from Gatun in you who reached for that banana from a white Zonian tree that brought you closer to the divide yet today you stand with great Pride and Joy that you are a Zonian, that you moved beyond and that our family is part of this wonder that we celebrate today.

Thank you for the whispers, thank you for the light.

Peace, love and Blessings

Critica Panama

BBC News

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