Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
Q: You were there from July of '62...
McCONVILLE: No, this would have been '63. I joined in September of '62, so it was July of '63 until about July of '65. In fact, my first assignment there was into the consular section for rotation, and I did immigrant visas. Unfortunately, for the immigrants about 95 percent of the immigrants in Panama at that time - there were no quotas for Latin America at that time - were the people of West Indian ancestry who, almost all, were trying to go to the Bedford Stuyvesant district in New York. The big issue was always public charge, whether or not they were in a position to be able to support themselves in the United States. For a great many of these applicants, they were typical to, say, young people in the ghetto or even in much worse circumstances, and many of them had sixth-grade educations at most and no work skills, no job experience, and were going to go off to the United States. The odds of them ending up being unemployed in the United States were very high, so we would have to try to determine that they had some relatives or somebody there that could help them get started. So mostly it was a question of overcoming this public charge issue. But these people spoke English as a first language, English as they spoke it - it was a West Indian form of English. They spoke Spanish, they were bilingual by this time, but they preferred to speak English, so our interviews were conducted in English, unlike the non-immigrants, which were mostly Spanish-speaking Panamanians. So in doing the immigrant visas, again, I was getting very little exposure to Spanish and had to go out and sort of force myself all the time to try to get my Spanish up to a 3-3. That was a big struggle, to come back and get tested and get my 3-3 in Spanish. But other than that, I had gotten through the rotation and actually I had finished up after about four months. They wanted me in the econ section because the commercial officer - they had an economic counselor, an economic officer, and a commercial officer - the commercial officer was transferred out on very short notice, so they wanted me to come up to the econ section and serve as commercial officer. So I had actually gotten out of a consular assignment after four months - it was supposed to be six - and I started working then as commercial officer. I was in a regular job again as the commercial officer. But in January of 1964 they had the riots in Panama. There had been a flag incident in the Canal Zone.
Q: At the high school.