Last night, UM’s Hispanic Heritage Month committee celebrated their second event of the month, a “Pedro Pan Exodus” event. The occasion brought together UM students and Cubans who came to the United States through the Pedro Pan Exodus movement, an initiative created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau of Miami in 1960 to provide Cuban children with the opportunity of coming to Miami, hence avoiding “Marxist-Leninist indoctrination” led by the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. Today, the Operation Pedro Pan Group exists to share their history and experiences, to locate and aid former unaccompanied children to reunite with their families and to help children in need.
Highlights of the event included moving speeches by Juanita Garcia, Gladys Gómez-Rossié, Armando Vizcaino and Eloísa Echazábal, the event’s main organizer. All main speakers came to the U.S. as unaccompanied children during the Pedro Pan exodus and are now proud to be called “Pedro Pans”. After sharing their personal stories, the podium was open to a question-and-answer session, which soon became an intimate conversation about remarkable memories and anecdotes. The audience was exposed to old photographs and personal objects belonging to the Pedro Pans, including a 50-year-old doll, passports, letters, plane tickets and even the single bag that stored all of one of the Pedro Pans’ possessions during her travels.
“I think it is important that university students and, actually, all of our youth know about the Operation Pedro Pan exodus story,” said said Eloísa, as she talked about her own experiences. “At the beginning, I was very hesitant to discuss anything that had happened because it was such a shock to go through. For years I didn’t even want to discuss it with my parents, I would ask them not to ask me any questions. But then as I got older, I realized that it was a very important period of my life. It was something that is a part of what made me what I am today and I decided that, yes, we have to tell the story.”
The event undoubtedly brought out many emotions in all of the Pedro Pans present.
“It’s a sad story. Every time I help Eloísa I cry because it is very difficult to have a country and then, from one day to the other you have no family you have no one,” said Juanita. “You become an adult. I was 13, I became my brother’s mother, father, sister, everything else.”
According to the Pedro Pan official website, “What is now known as Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere,” making it one of the most significant events of Cuban history during the Cold War period. Pedro Pans recognize the sacrifice that their parents made by risking everything to keep them safe from Fidel Castro’s newly established regime. Even though many Cubans were skeptical about the regime’s durability, indoctrination of the youth was to be avoided at all costs.
In Eloísa’s words, the Pedro Pan Exodus Operation “is a story that is very little known, but it is a beautiful story”. Every Pedro Pan has a story that is uniquely his or her own, and Tuesday night became a wonderful recollection of those cultural, memorable and extraordinary tales.
The University of Miami, in partnership with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee, is proud to recognize Hispanic cultures, in addition to honoring their contributions to the American society. This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month has gathered UM students, faculty and staff in a variety of cultural activities, ranging from culinary experiences to dancing lessons. To find out more about upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month events, visit http://www.miami.edu/msa/hhm.
words_sophie barros. photos_raquel zaldivar.