George Landini interviews Coro de silencio [Choir of Silence] author Roberto Rodríguez [see previous posts Film: Roberto Rodríguez Díaz’s “Coro de Silencio” and New Book: Roberto Rodríguez’s “Coro de silencio” (Choir of Silence)] whose book was adapted to film in 2013. Landini writes:
The purpose of this meeting [in a crowded café in Old San Juan] is the film-documentary Coro de silencio, of which he [Roberto Rodríguez] is director and executive producer; he became the first Cuban exile director to participate in a film festival in Cuba—the Festival of New Latin American Cinema of Havana. But he began writing the script for this film many years ago, precisely in 1961, when Roberto, still a boy of 11 years of age, was sent by his parents to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan.
Here are excerpts of the interview; see the full interview in the link below:
Your documentary film Coro de silencio made you not only the first Cuban exile to participate in a film festival in Havana, Cuba, but it was also shown at the Havana Film Festival in New York (April 2014) and here at the Film Festival of San Juan, Puerto Rico (2013). [. . .] Did you perceive different reactions in each one of those cities? No, in every place where it was exhibited, the reaction was the same. Well, maybe in Havana it was different because everyone already knew the history of documentary, while in San Juan and New York many viewers admitted [. . .] that they had no idea of the dark and negative aspects of Operation Pedro Pan.
You originally wrote the book called Coro de silencio. How and why did you get the idea of turning it into a documentary film? I originally traveled to Cuba for the sole purpose of seeing my country, to visit the house where he was born, to revisit the school, walk the streets of my childhood; and all the emotions and feelings of that trip led me to feel the conviction that I should write the story of my experiences and that of other children who participated in the Pedro Pan program. The book was born of the agitation [the emotion] of seeing again, of walking once more on the land of my birth. Travelling from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, visiting El Cobre, seeing my neighbors again, making new friends … I went back to Miami with the story of the entire book in my head, and when it finally came off the press, those who read it started to tell me that I should make a movie.
Can you tell us about your particular experience and that of other children of the Pedro Pan Program with whom you lived or with whom you had contact later on? At first no one wanted to talk, because of different traumatic experiences they had suffered, so I decided to take the first step and tell my story. After the book came out and later the film, other “Peter Pans” have felt encouraged to speak out. Now, more people are beginning to tell their stories, which, in many cases, were even worse than mine.
The worst of all is to think that there was no need to go to orphanages, reformatories, or to fall into homes of people who abused us in many ways. People should be aware that there was mental, sexual, and physical abuse; and the same priests told us that if we spoke out, we would be sent back to Cuba and that we would bring shame on our families. I understand that this was the biggest problem of Operation Pedro Pan, and while it is true that not all priests behaved this way, most of them did.
You mean that the United States led the Cuban families to believe that the state would take away their children? Someone circulated a text, a false rumor about of a law, which was surreptitiously, secretly going from one family to another [. . .] saying that the government would take away parental rights, and as that story circulated, many parents, like mine, decided to send their children to the United States.
After seeing a documentary I had the impression that Cuban families ended up delivering their children to pedophile priests and / or unscrupulous people. Of course it was not in all cases, but who you think is to blame that so many children were sent far away from their families?
They were members of the American government—those who made people believe in this talk of loss of parental rights—with the complicity of the church, and they exacerbated the families’ fear (now known to be unfounded).
The church showed a false “gentle face” lending itself to appear as if it were reacting at the request of Cuban families, when what really happened is that the American government had mounted a huge advertising campaign in its favor, and did not care that for its political purposes, entire families went bankrupt and thousands of children suffered so much. I completely blame the church, because what it did and what the Archdioceses of Havana and Miami agreed to do was aberrant.
Furthermore, to understand the dimensions of what happened, we must not forget that it was the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in history, 14,048 children left Cuba (the previous exodus was the ‘Kindertransport’ in Nazi Germany, which involved 10,000 Jewish children). [. . .]
For full interview, see http://oncubamagazine.com/sociedad/coro-de-silencio/