I’ve never met Juan José Valdés, but he and I have more in common that most other human beings. We were both sent to the United States by our parents–unaccompanied — on the so-called Pedro Pan airlift.
(*&@#$#! Damn it, how I hate that name given to the airlift! What a truly stupid and inappropriate name. In absolute contrast to the Lost Children in J.M. Barrie’s story “Peter Pan,” the children of the Cuban airlift didn’t go to Neverland and remain children forever: instead we lost our childhood instantly, in a 45-minute flight over the Florida Straits. Besides, Cubans never spoke of “Pedro Pan”: we said “Peter Pan”– with “Peter”pronounced as “Pite” (Pee-teh).
Juan José Valdés was one of the lucky kids. His parents were able to leave Castrogonia a few months later, and the family was quickly reunited. Many of us were less lucky and spent many years apart from our parents, or even never saw them again.
Like many airlift kids, Juan José overcame the trauma with a vengeance, became a cartographer, and ended up as THE cartographer for National Geographic magazine. To top it off, he produced a spectacular map of Cuba for his employers — the first since 1906.
Like many airlift kids, his lost childhood has haunted his adult life. Flashbacks are common among us. Very vivid flashbacks. These flashbacks, I’m convinced, lead us to do everything with a vengeance, so to speak: in other words, we often go overboard and do more than is necessary or more than other human beings are willing to do.
This is where similarities end.
Unlike many of the airlift kids I know, Juan José decided to connect his flashbacks with physical reality, and has gone back to Castrogonia. And he has done so with a vengeance, as tour leader for National Geographic’s loathsome people-to-people Castrogonian junkets.
Of course, such a heartwarming tale of reconciliation with the totalitarian regime that wrecked his homeland and tore his family apart caught the eye of the Washington Post, and it was given ample coverage yesterday in its Sunday magazine.
No need for heavy-handed editorializing by he Post. The moral of the story, as they see it, is best delivered subtly, with all attention devoted to little details, like the toys this man had to leave behind. Yes, damn it: it’s such a beautiful thing, this reconciling. And this is what every Cuban exile should do: forgive the Castro dynasty, leave plenty of dollars in their pockets, and accept the fact that their fellow Cubans on the island deserve to remain enslaved forever.
The author of the article also made sure to include an account of how Juan José’s memories of Castroite cruelty were totally false, created in his impressionable memory by his evil intransigent anti-Castro parents.
If you want to read this nauseating piece (“Losing his Cuban home shaped a Nat Geo mapmaker’s life”) go HERE.