All Our Antecedents Are Enveloped in the Black Cloak of Crime

This is the first, of hopefully, many more stories that will premiere on this site. This one is based on my thoughts following research on the Congress of Panama (highlighted in my “Today in Latin America series”). Let me know, by e-mail or comments, what you think.

A preview below. For the full story, a PDF file here.

All Our Antecedents Are Enveloped in the Black Cloak of Crime

I. La Jura de Bandera…

After the pledge of allegiance, the students took their seats. The announcements had just declared fútbol and basketball practice that afternoon, followed by a dance recital in the evening. As the principal shut down his intercom, Señora Oniria pulled down the white screen and flicked on the projector sitting in the middle of the tight classroom. Señora Oniria was a young teacher straight out of Bogotá, teaching in her first year, who often donned a purple scarf to distract from her supple body, and waved it around frequently in class. She was a hands-on teacher who pushed the Socratic method to the limits, asking questions to every student, every day, regardless of whether they had read the homework or expressed an interest. Víctor was one of those students who spoke in every class and as students stumbled on some of Señora Oniria’s harder questions, he was there to pick up the slack. Like everyone in the class it was his senor year and most were planning on college (what else is there to do?). Víctor was awaiting his acceptance to the Universidad de Bogotá himself, as well as other schools across Gran Columbia, Perú, and even the United States.

Señora Oniria pulled from her bag a clear, laminated sheet and laid it under the piercing light of the projector. Class, she announced, this will be a review for your final exam. Víctor was a great student, but struggled on tests. His mind clouded during the examen final like a mysterious fog rolling through tired, ancient Buenos Aires. Oniria uncorked her green marker and wrote upside-down so the student’s could see. Her letters were bold, thick, and felt important. Celia, love, Oniria said, please name me the system under which we in the Federation live. She scoffed the question, although Víctor knew it was easy. Democracy, she said. Well, , you are partly correct. Víctor? He placed his hand back down on his desk. Republic. Sí, muy bien. And what’s the difference Víctor? He tried to remember what he’d wrote in his notes. He began to open his notebook, a sin in Oniria’s class. He got her scarf waved in his face. No, no, what does it mean to you? He swallowed. Well…democracy is rule by the people, directly, a republic is rule by the people, indirectly. Sí, and…Ricardo, what is the founding document of this great republic? You should all know these, this is easy. I expect hesitation on Supreme Court cases. How can I rephrase this…What’s our mythology, if you will, Ricardo? No? Clase? Víctor spoke after an apathetic silence. The Constitution of the Isthmus of Panamá. Víctor’s right, she said. Class, this is when the newly independent states of Perú and Bolivia, as we know, came together under Bolívar and joined Gran Columbia in the Federation of Latin America. Now, our united states, if you will. Folks, I expect better out of you than this.

The rest of the class focused on a litany of people, places and dates – something she assured them would not be predominant on the final exam, it was only reviewed so one could get a sense of where things fit in history. Víctor knew better, and he imagined the timelines and charts that he’d begin to sketch when school let out. He began to make a graph charting the unprecedented events of the Congress of Panama in 1826 when he heard his name. I’m sorry Señora, can you repeat the question. She seemed genuinely annoyed, but with Víctor, she toned down her attitude. What is the precedent set in Hidalgo v. Caracas? Precedent? He was overwhelmed at the point and began to shut down. He couldn’t remember Hidalgo from Gutíerrez from Asturias. A bright student named Gualo answered in Víctor’s stead. Something about the first amendment. Víctor took history very seriously, although he had no real plans to advance his studies in college beyond the core classes required to graduate. He knew the importance of these court cases and presidents and foreign policy decisions like the dates of wars, who we went to war with and against whom. He’d memorized the social forces he’d have to know: industrialization, labor, women’s, Native American – but truthfully, Víctor got short at breath thinking about how everything jumbles together. He has a hard enough time getting himself going in the mornings. Some would complain about the Federation, he’d think, but whatever the flaws that were shown in school, it’s like no one else on earth, and for that Víctor takes stock in the apathy of this class – those students won’t be able to run this country to the ground!

Class, please review for the test next week. But more importantly, please try to identify with what we’ve talked about. I mean to say, recognize this country is what it is because of these things we discussed today. She took both ends of her scarf and fluttered them towards the door, You’re dismissed, I’ll see you next week. Study! Víctor scribbled last second thoughts about how he was going to study. Some walked past Víctor towards the door, a few approached Señora Oniria at her desk to discuss grades, some questioning if there was any value in showing up for the exam at all. Víctor shut his notebook and packed it into his bag and walked out the door. Waiting for him was Gualo, a handsome kid who was both smart and popular, on the fútbol team and on scholarship at the Universidad de Panamá.

Víctor, Gualo began, how about meeting us at Café Iberia after school? Víctor declined, he said he had to study for history and other classes. No, Gualo said, I’m sorry, I meant as as study group. A couple kids from class to study history, and talk about it, impart some knowledge in our small heads, he said with a beaming smile. Víctor seemed nervous, he didn’t know what to say. Gualo understood. Listen, Víctor, no pressure. We’ll be at the Iberia from about six, after my game, until maybe eleven, if that’s not too late. You come, you come. If not, I’ll see you for the exam. Any word on university’s yet? Víctor shook his head, No word yet. It’ll come, said Gualo optimistically. Hope to see you tonight, I’ve got to get to Spanish.

Víctor stumbled through the rest of his day. He had Spanish and math on lock. Some of his classes did not have final exams. But it was only history – the vastness, the scale, the importance (self imposed or not) that commanded Víctor’s attention. He could speak Spanish and add polynomials, but what is history? Can one be historical in any gifted sense of the word? If that is what needed to be done, Víctor was going to go online and look up what it takes to be that and become it. It may require meeting at the Café Iberia. As school ended, Víctor was in debate. Should he or should he not bring his timelines and charts with him to the Iberia tonight?

(Click to continue.)


~ by Daniel on March 14, 2009.

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