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It’s a good thing that more and more Cuban ‘Pedro Pan’ children are telling their stories

(My new post about Pedro Pan kids)

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.

P. S. You can hear CANTO TALK here & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.


1 comment to It’s a good thing that more and more Cuban ‘Pedro Pan’ children are telling their stories

  • Yvonne Conde

    Although I agree with Mr. Canto’s assertion that “It's a good thing that more and more Cuban 'Pedro Pan' children are telling their stories I must address two of his mistaken assertions for the sake of accuracy. A cut and paste from Operation Pedro Pan Group is not accurate. “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.” This is NOT so. There are several such groups, all working to publicize and document Pedro Pan. As a matter of fact on 6/14/07 the Board of Operation Pedro Pan Group tried to limit the use of the name "Pedro Pan." It attempted to trademark it to gain sole proprietorship and control of the same and keep any other Pedro Pan from using it. Oscar Pichardo and I disagreed with this action and hired a NYC copyright legal firm to argue before the US Patent and Trademark Office in Washington that "Pedro Pan" was a generic and historical name that could not be trademarked. More than two years later, we won, and the US Patent and Trademark Office issued its decision on 12/15/09.
    Additionally, Mr. Eire’s marvelous “Waiting for Snow in Havana,” awarded the 2003 National Book Award for Non-Fiction, was not the first book about the exodus as Mr. Canto claims. “Fleeing Castro” by Victor Triay and my own “Operation Pedro Pan-The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuba Children” were published in 1998 and 1999.