Last week, on November 12 and 13, a group of Cuban exiles, now in their 50s and 60s, visited the Miami-Dade camps where they were first housed as foreign children in a new country. Nearly 200 Cuban children, called ‘Pedro Pan’ children, arrived alone in the United States 50 years ago as part of the famed Operation Pedro Pan. Luisa Yáñez reports on the recent reunion of some of those exiles. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the operation. Here are excerpts, with a link to the full article below:
The camps—Kendall, Florida City and Matecumbe in South Dade County–were the first stop for the 14,048 unaccompanied minors who took part in the clandestine program engineered by the US government, the Miami Catholic Church and Cuban parents on the island desperate to get their kids out after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. On Friday, some of those kids, who are and visiting Miami for a weekend reunion, climbed aboard buses and headed for the camps — some returning for the first time to the place where many spent their first night ever away from their parents.
“There is a lot of crying and reminiscing,” said Carmen Valdivia, a Pedro Pan kid who lived at the Florida City camp for three years with her sister and is one of the organizers of the special activity during a weekend reunion for the Pedro Pan that culminates with a gala Saturday night sponsored by the Operation Pedro Pan Group. “We’re explaining to people who live here now why we’re here today,” said Valdivia, who on Friday reunited with girls who had shared housing with her when they were teenagers.
In Operation Pedro Pan lore, the camps are a crucial locale. The Pedro Pans, whose ages ranged from infants to teenagers, slipped out of Cuba with visa waivers and arrived at Miami International Airport. If they were not greeted by relatives, they went into the care of the church. A Catholic Charities employee named Jorge “George” Guarch drove them to the camps run by nuns and priests and foster parents assigned to each house.
Most young girls and boys were taken to Florida City or the Kendall camp, which has since been knocked down except for a main building. Teenage boys were taken to Camp Matecumbe, later a Boys Town camp that is now unused.
Universally, Pedro Pans tell of how their first nights at the camp were filled with the sounds of the newly arrived, homesick children crying out in the night for their parents. “As you can imagine, this tour takes us back to a very painful time in our lives,” Valdivia said at the Florida City stop. The group will end the tour on the outskirts of Little Havana at the Operation Pedro Pan Memorial dedicated last year by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, himself a Pedro Pan.
[The anniversary of Operación Pedro Pan is celebrated on December 26. Also see previous post 50 years later, ‘Pedro Pans’ reflect on pivotal Cuba-to-U.S. trip.]