Greetings gang! I’ve been a bit MIA this past month as I’ve been completing an intensive French course that has left me intensively Frenchy-fried. But alas, the class is done, and I can resume my post as blog poster. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell of my adventures in France this past month. However, until then, I cede the keyboard to my very first guest blogger, my father, hereby known on this blog as “El Padre.”
In an attempt to share points of view and slices of life from all around the world, I asked El Padre to share a little something about a topic he is very passionate about…Puerto Rico. A few days ago, El Padre called me to chat, and in that chat El Padre mentioned that on that day, Puerto Rico celebrated the life of a one of its illustrious patriots, Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa. With El Padre’s desire to always teach his daughter something new, he shared with me some information regarding this important figure in Puerto Rican history. Touched by El Padre’s passion for this subject and happy to have learned something new about my culture, I asked El Padre to write something to share on my blog. And he did. Enjoy!
Illustrious Medical Doctor Commemorated
On July 27, the people of Puerto Rico commemorated the birth date of one of its most illustrious sons, Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa (1857-1921). He distinguished himself in many areas during the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among other distinctions, he was the first Puerto Rican to obtain a medical degree from an American university; in fact, he graduated at the top of his class at The University of Michigan Medical School in 1880.
He was born to a humble family of artisans and remained humble throughout his very productive and notorious life. He was born “mestizo” with European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. He felt that people of mixed raced like he had little chance at advancement in the island (Puerto Rico) due to colonial prejudice which favored European descendants. This belief paved the way for him to move temporarily to the United States to learn English and pursue his ambition of becoming a medical doctor.
This belief also paved the way for his pro-statehood political stance. In 1899, one year after the US invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American war, he founded the pro-statehood Puerto Rican Republican Party. However, even though he favored statehood, he zealously guarded Puerto Rican identity and strongly believed that Puerto Rico should retain its Spanish language and culture.
When the United States Navy bombarded what today is known as “The Old San Juan”, and blockaded the entrance to the San Juan Bay in 1898, Dr. Celso Barbosa, with the company of other doctors, crossed the Bay from the town of Catano in a ferry boat to aid the wounded Puerto Ricans and Spanish soldiers, coming close to been hit by cannon fire. For this bravery, the Spanish government recommended that Dr. Celso Barbosa and his fellow doctors be awarded The Naval Cross of the Order of Merit, the highest honor of its kind.
After Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States in 1898, the President of the United States, William McKinley, in recognition of Dr. Celso Barbosa’s accomplishments and stature, selected him along with four other distinguished Puerto Ricans to form part of the President’s Executive Cabinet, where he served from 1900 to 1917. During that year he became a member of the Puerto Rico Senate until he died in 1921 at the age of 64, 90 years ago.
Even those opposed to Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa’s political philosophy recognize this man’s integrity, humanity, and unwavering defense of the people of Puerto Rico’s best interests.
Footnote: The author of this review, Frank Vieras Alejandro, M.D. assumes responsibility for the historical accuracy of its content.