When I mention to someone that I've just met that I'm Cuban, the first thing they do is recall the only other Cuban person they've ever met. Then next thing that happens is that they ask me if I know them.
Most of the time I don't, but being Cuban, we do manage to find connections in the oddest places. See this story.
Just as often, I meet someone whose only exposure to Cubans was that they remember "a Cuban kid came to live with a local family in the early 60's."
What they're unknowingly referring to is Operation Pedro Pan. During the early days of the Cuban Revolution that destoyed so many lives, parents desperate to save their children from the communist takeover sent them unaccompanied to the U.S.
This heartbreaking chapter in our exile story is not very well known outside of Cuban circles. There were 14,048 unaccompanied minors placed on airplanes, some never reuniting with their families.
My brother was one of the lucky ones. He was 15 and it was the day after Christmas 1960 when he was sent to the U.S. on the very first Pedro Pan flight. He was taken in, along with dozens of Cuban kids by Father (later Monsignor) Bryan O.Walsh until our family was reunited a few months later.
This rememberance card was given to my brother by Msgr. Walsh during his stay at St. Raphael Hall.
This weekend members of Operation Pedro Pan Group will mark the 50th anniversary of the airlift that brought 14,000 unaccompanied minors from Cuba to the U.S. with a Mass of thanksgiving on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 3 p.m. at Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami.
The Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski and will be followed by the dedication of the original La Salle building in honor of Msgr. Bryan Walsh, the Catholic priest whom the Pedro Pans consider their “foster father.” The building will be renamed the Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh Humanities Pavillion.
The Mass and rededication ceremony will come at the conclusion of three days of Pedro Pan-related activities, Nov. 18-20. On Friday, Nov. 18, Archbishop Wenski will kick off a day-long conference on “Pedro Pan: A 50-Year Perspective,” with a reflection on the legacy of Msgr. Walsh.
Neither my brother, nor my mom ever talk much about this painful drama in our family life. I, personally, can't imagine the agony of separation from my kids in this way. My guess is that members of this particular group would find it difficult to relate to others unless they, too, experienced the same pain.
Today, my mom (97) says she mostly remembers the relief and the gratitude. But even after 50 years, the look in her eyes says she feels the pain accutely.
Are any of you Pedro Pans? Will you share?