It’s an amazing story.
It involved children, from 5 to 18 years old.
It happened almost daily in Cuba as parents took their children to the airport, put them on plane and waved goodbye. My parents looked into it but decided that we would leave together rather than separately.
We now call it “Operation Pedro Pan” and the numbers were staggering, according to Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc:
“Over four decades ago, Cuban parents fearing indoctrination and that the Cuban government would take away their parental authority exercised one of the most fundamental human rights: the right to choose how their children would be educated.
From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States. What is now known as Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded exodus of Unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere. The exodus of the Cuban children was virtually unknown for over 30 years. Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh who is considered the Father of our Exodus states that the name had only appeared in print in March of 62 and in a Reader’s Digest article in 1988. It was through the effort and work of Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. that the name Operation Pedro Pan became known throughout the US and the world. Approximately, half of the minors were reunited with relatives or friends at the airport. More than half were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, directed by a young 30 year old Irish priest, Bryan O. Walsh. The children from the Cuban Refugee Children’s Program were placed in temporary shelters in Miami, and relocated in 30 States. Many children of the Unaccompanied Cuban Children’s program, are unaware that they were part of history in the making.”
Over time, “los Pedro Pans,” as they are affectionately known in the Cuban American community, were integrated into US life. In most cases, they became successful citizens of the US.
Over the last few years, many of these “Pedro Pan” have decided to write down their stories. It probably started with Carlos Eire’s “Waiting for snow in Havana” and followed by a series of books, such as a new one called “Cuba adios” by Lorenzo Martinez.
These books serve important objectives:
1) they reminde us of our parents and their sacrifices;
2) they show the incredible generosity of Americans all over who helped these youngsters settle in new towns and cities very far from the tropical winds of Cuba;
3) they provide reading material to the young Cuban Americans born in the US. Many of them are in high schools and could use these books to get closer to their Cuban grandparents; and,
4) they will allow future historians, in a hopefully free Cuba, get the background information about the Cuban immigration of the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not sure how much Cubans in the island know “the exile story,” especially the sacrifice of a coming to a new land.
I’m thrilled that more and more Cubans are telling their stories. It’s amazing how similar and different they are.