“Second star to the right, and straight on to Miami” was the route to Never-neverland for many of the over 14,000 Cuban children of Operation Pedro Pan. The story of this unique generational cohort whose lives were forever changed by their 45-minute flight to freedom from communism is on display through an array of personal artifacts, official documents, and archival images starting March 24, 2021 at Miami’s American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora (the Cuban) in partnership with Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., (OPPG).
“Operation Pedro Pan: The Cuban Children’s Exodus 60 Anniversary,” explores the journey taken by the Pedro Pans whose parents looked to the United States of America as a beacon of hope. Airlifted to America from 1960-1962 to escape the prospects of totalitarian forced reeducation and conscription under the Castro regime, they were received and cared for by Catholic institutions and relatives while awaiting the uncertain hope of reuniting with their parents. Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh of the Archdiocese of Miami led the extraordinary effort.
Among the children of Operation Pedro Pan are United States Senator Mel Martinez, Yale University Professor and bestselling author of memoir “Waiting for Snow in Havana” Carlos Eire, Maximo Alvarez, President of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Former City of Miami Mayors, Joe Carollo and Tomas Regalado, and Miguel Bezos, adoptive father of technology company Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Marcell Felipe, the museum’s Executive Chairman said he expects the exhibit to attract both Miamians and visitors to the area. “I think there is understandable anticipation in the Miami community to see this exhibit because it is personal to fourteen thousand Pedro Pans, many of whom now have their own children and grandchildren. It is also of great interest beyond the Cuban-American community because on the one hand, it is a human story of sacrifice, family, separation and loss—and on the other, it is a story of hope— how even in the face of evil, there were people like Monsignor [Bryan A.] Walsh who took risks to save innocent children from a system of hatred and violence.”
“We were very sad to leave our parents, our country, our friends and families – I never saw my grandparents again – but, because we escaped communism in Cuba, I am free, my children are free, and my grandchildren are free,” stated Carmen Valdivia, Chair of the Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. (OPPG) Historical Committee as well as Executive Director of the Cuban, herself a Pedro Pan and the exhibit’s curator.
The exhibit occupies all three galleries on the Cuban’s first floor, featuring objects including the Pedro Pans’ school yearbooks and family photos, documents and video chronicling the consolidation of the Castro regime’s grip on power which prompted the exodus, and materials from the camps where the children were cared for and educated in the United States, forging a lifelong bond.
Among the most striking scenes visitors will encounter is a reproduction of “la pecera (the fish tank),” a glass-walled enclosure at the Havana airport where the children were separated from their parents and intimidated by regime guards a final time until they boarded their flights. Moving on with poignant images of tiny suitcases behind glass fresh in mind, a wall-sized arrival log signals the children’s safe arrival in Miami. Visitors with connections to Pedro Pans can search for the names of their loved one by arrival date. Throughout, the voices of the Pedro Pans themselves narrate the story in the form of quotes in individual fonts on the gallery walls, columns, and lintels.
“Operation Pedro Pan: The Cuban Children’s Exodus 60 Anniversary” expands upon an earlier exhibit produced in 2015 by OPPG in partnership with south Florida Smithsonian-affiliate HistoryMiami Museum. The 2021 exhibit features an expanded collection of objects, documents, and images loaned by OPPG and its Historical Committee, the University of Miami Libraries Cuban Heritage Collection, Barry University’s Archives and Special Collections, the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library, and the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives.
Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. (OPPG) is a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1991 by the former children of Pedro Pan. The organization has played an integral role in documenting and educating the public on this important chapter of the history of Cuba and the United States. Learn more about OPPG at www.pedropan.org or facebook.com/OPPGI
The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. The museum was made possible by the Building Better Communities bond program, enacted by the citizens of Miami-Dade County, and the generous support of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners.