A couple of years ago, I wrote this post about George Washington’s birthday or February 22, 1732. You can see the full post here.
My late great-uncle, or Tio Joaquin as we called him, was one of those men who got to live a lot of the history that we’ve read.
He was born in the 1890s or when Cuban was still a Spanish colony. The US and Spain got into a war in 1898 and Cuba finally achieved its independence in 1902. Unlike most of Latin America that became independent in the first 30 years of the 19th century, Cuba remained the last Spanish outpost in the New World until the end of the century.
He remembers the day that Cuba became an independent country. He lived through the Great Depression or when the price of sugar collapsed in the 1930s. He saw the Machado dictatorship that followed the economic turmoil, the Batista uprising, the establishment of a republic in 1940 and communist takeover of 1959.
He saw it all and died in Cuba in the 1980s. He chose not to leave because he didn’t want to be a burden to his nephews (my father and two uncles) starting a new life in the US. He used to say that the communist were not going to convert old folks like him and Aunt Clara.
He was a huge fan of US history, specially Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
He told me something that I will never forget. Let me paraphrase it for you:
“The US was very lucky to have a man of Washington’s character at every turn of the young nation’s history. He earned the respect of the rebels with his integrity. He was the man trusted by those colonists embarking on a constitutional experiment. And he knew when to leave when his two terms were up. Did you ever hear of a man walk away from a position of power? He could have been president for life but he left.”
It was a history lesson that I did not quite understand as a kid in Cuba.
I understand it today as we celebrate the man’s life on his birthday.