He Burnt His Money Instead of Giving to Government

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Oscar Hernandez was born in Cuba in 1949 before Fulgencio Batista was overthrown during the Cuban Revolution in 1959. He was only 10 years old.

His father had a successful restaurant before the revolution. 

Oscar's father working on his farm
Oscar’s father working on his farm in Cuba 1980s

New Policy

When Fidel Castro came to power, he imposed a new policy on the Cuban people: They were no longer able to have more than a set amount of money. This caused his father to lose his life’s work. Any money over the set amount had to go to the Cuban government.

Instead of giving in, he decided to burn it all.


Hernandez has told many stories about how he and his family continued to struggle, until he decided to escape when he was sixteen years old, in 1965. He escaped by swimming to a U.S. naval base ten miles off the coast of Cuba. He decided to go with his brother and a group of friends. All of them made it except for one of his friends who was fatally shot, but they had no choice but to keep moving forward. 

Oscar with his parents
Oscar with his parents in Cuba 1980s

Family Is Priority

Growing up in extreme poverty, Oscar learned that family is the most important thing. When everything in his life seemed hopeless, he always had his family to confide in. The majority of his family in Cuba continues to live in the same neighborhood, with most of their houses directly next to each other.

Twelve Siblings – One Pair of Shoes

The only material thing he obsesses over is shoes. When he was growing up his family was so poor they owned only one pair of shoes. He and his twelve siblings shared them. They were allowed to use them only if they had to go to town to get something. To this day, Hernandez has never cared about the way he looks, how he appears to other people, or the clothes that he has. Most of the time he wears clothes he got from a thrift store, and combs his hair and shaves his face only because his wife makes him.