Father's Influence Pays Off

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee, Times-Union columnist

When Javier Garcia was a child, he never quite got why his father was always so persnickety about the way to slice a piece of ham.

"I'd ask how big [to slice it], and he'd tell me to make it 3 millimeters," recalled Garcia. "But he wouldn't let me use a ruler. He'd say, 'One day you will have to look at something and be able to tell [3 millimeters] just by looking.'

"I think what he was telling me was that it was important to be precise -- not just technically, but in thinking about your life."

Such lessons have served Garcia, who is now 44, well. They shaped an aptitude for precision and detail that led him to pursue a successful living as a neurosurgeon -- like his father. But Garcia's thirst for details also inspired him to seek out the particulars of his Cuban origins and a family history that goes back to the time when his ancestor Simon Bolivar was stirring liberation movements in Spanish-dominated Latin America.

"I'm like an onion. I have so many layers of investment in Cuba," Garcia said. "Here [in Jacksonville] I'm Javier Garcia Bengochea y Bolivar -- and no one cares. But in Cuba, that had cachet.

"I have ancestors who fought in the Spanish-American War . . . I have ancestors who are buried next to Carlos Manuel de Cespedes." He was a Cuban planter in Santiago de Cuba who became the first to free his slaves and encourage them to fight in the war.

But Garcia didn't learn about his Cuban ties at family gatherings on the island. …