José Celso Barbosa Day

Today is José Celso Barbosa Day, a celebration of the Father of the Statehood Movement in Puerto Rico.

Celso Barbosa was born in 1857, when Puerto Rico was still a colony of Spain. He studied medicine in the United States and returned to Puerto Rico in 1880, only to find that the Spanish authorities there would not recognize his credentials. Only degrees from Europe were accepted as evidence of medical qualifications. The U.S. consulate spoke up for him, and Celso Barbosa was able to practice medicine in his home town of Bayamon.

Celso Barbosa‘s determination to improve life in Puerto Rico went beyond medical treatment for individuals. He introduced a plan for employers to pay a fee upfront to cover the health care costs of their employers — an early version of health insurance. He founded the first bilingual newspaper in Puerto Rico.

When war came to Puerto Rico, Celso Barbosa, a member of the Red Cross, joined other doctors in caring for the wounded soldiers, both Spanish and Puerto Rican.  He was awarded the Cruz de la Orden del Mérito Naval by Spain for his medical service in the war.

But Celso Barbosa was not satisfied with life as a colonist. When the Spanish-American War ended with Spain ceding Puerto Rico to the United States, Celso Barbosa saw an opportunity for change. Having lived in the United States, he was aware of the benefits of being a state of the Union rather than a colony. He admired the form of government in the United States, and was determined that Puerto Rico should become a state and participate in that government fully. In 1899, he helped form the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, and began working toward statehood.

Celso Barbosa was named a member of the Executive Cabinet, the first civilian government in the territory of Puerto Rico. He served there from 1900 to 1917, working for U.S. citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico. He then became a member of the Senate, the first elected government in the territory, where he served from 1917 to 1921. He died in San Juan in December of 1921.

José Celso Barbosa Day is an official holiday in Puerto Rico. It is celebrated with ceremonies at the childhood home of Celso Barbosa in Bayamón, which is now a museum, and also at his tomb in San Juan.

What a perfect day to reach out to your legislators, to make sure that they know that statehood for Puerto Rico matters.

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