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American Diplomacy
Foreign Service Life

November 2010

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The world is full of coincidences, some lucky and some are not. This is a lucky one. –Ed.

Romeros

Recent memoir pieces by my retired FSO contemporaries Ed Williams and Bart Moon prompt an anecdote that may please aficionados of classic guitar.

Celedonia Romero
Celedonio Romero

As vice consul at Sevilla in 1957, I had as my visa assistant Don Luis Gamarra, a cultivated gentleman who was amazed to discover that his much younger chief shared his taste for classical music. (Not without justification, many cultured Spaniards of that time believed that American culture consisted of Elvis Presley, tail-fin Cadillacs, and Readers Digest.)

Luis (it was “usted” in the office, “tu” outside) was a good friend of the classical guitarist Celedonio Romero. No admirer of the Franco regime, Celedonio lived in Sevilla in relative obscurity with his castañuelista wife and three sons whom he had rigorously trained in classical guitar. They were later to become “The Royal Family of the Guitar.”

Celedonia Romero
The Romeros performing together
Celedonia Romero
The Romero Family
Luis arranged an informal evening of tapas, tinto, and guitar at Celedonio’s. The impromptu program included what was to become Celedonio’s signature adaptation for 4 guitars of the Vivaldi/Bach Concerto for Four Violins/Harpsichords. During chatter between numbers, Celedonio noted what a fine career he could have had in the US if only he had not been born a Spanish national in Cuba and thus subject to the microscopic Spanish quota under the 1952 immigration act.

“Hombre!” Cried Luis, ”does your birth certificate show Cuba?” Yes, replied Celedonio, but what of it? Well-informed about visa law, Luis excitedly pointed out that under the 1952 law, those born in independent Western Hemisphere states, and their families, were not subject to quota. The stunned Romeros could not have then realized that this chance exchange was to radically change their lives: a couple of months later, Luis prepared the papers and I signed 5 immigrant visas.

Once in the US, the Romeros prospered handsomely: numerous concert and recording contracts with world-class conductors and orchestras; sons Angel and Pepe became major recording and concert virtuosi in their own right. And patriarch Celedonio was finally recognized in post-Franco Spain when King Juan Carlos decorated him with the Orden de Isabel La Católica and Pope John Paul II knighted him.

Richard S. Dawson, Jr. was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Antioch College in 1951. Following two years in the U.S. Army and graduate work in international relations at the University of California at Berkeley, he joined the Foreign Service. He served in Seville, Beirut, Nouakchott, Rabat, San Pedro Sula, Lagos, Istanbul and Mexico City. He and his wife Claudine currently live in France.


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