Thursday, January 3, 2019
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | Memories and tears flowed freely as the now grown children of Pedro Pan, who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors, watched their lives depicted onscreen.
Gathered in early December at Immaculate-La Salle High School in Miami – which many attended shortly after their arrival in Miami – dozens of local Pedro Pans watched a documentary created by and for their organization: “Operation Pedro Pan: The Cuban Children’s Exodus.”
“This is our story,” said Carmen Valdivia, the film’s executive producer and chair of Operation Pedro Pan Group’s Historic Committee. Valdivia left Cuba at age 12 with her sister. Her mother, who was reunited with them years later, is one of those interviewed in the film.
“This is our way of preserving our story and the sacrifice of our parents and of all who helped us. So it won’t be forgotten,” Valdivia said.
The documentary is based on the work of historian Victor Andres Triay and his book, “Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children’s Program.”
The film premiered in November 2017 at the Miracle Theater on S.W. Eighth Street in Miami. It has been shown at Florida International University, the University of Miami and Belen Jesuit Prep here, as well as in the Diocese of St. Augustine, whose bishop, Felipe Estevez, was a Pedro Pan.
It also has been shown in Connecticut and New Jersey, and members of Operation Pedro Pan Group say they will show it anywhere they can. They are especially interested in doing so at local Catholic high schools and Florida’s seminaries.
“We’ll go wherever we’re called,” said Juan Pujol, a 1965 graduate of Immaculata-La Salle who also appears in the documentary and serves as Pedro Pan Group’s second vice-president. “We have to know our true history, the true reason our parents made the decisions they made.”
“It has a lot to do with faith,” said Carmen Romanach, who also got a credit as executive producer on behalf of Operation Pedro Pan Group. She serves as first vice-president of the non-profit, which was founded in 1991 by the Pedro Pans to seek out the former unaccompanied children, document the exodus’ history, and help children in need, especially the unaccompanied minors of today.
Romanach noted that fear of communist indoctrination drove many of the Pedro Pan parents to do what they did. Although most of the 14,000 Pedro Pans were Catholic, the exodus encompassed several hundred Protestant and Jewish children. The Catholic Church in Miami worked with agencies of other faiths to find housing and foster parents for them.
“The Catholic Church was up front and there to help us all,” said Frank Angones, one of the Pedro Pans interviewed in the documentary. He left Cuba at age 10 in 1961 and graduated from Immaculata-La Salle in 1968. He is now a senior partner in the law firm of Angones, McClure and García. “We survived, and generally the group prospered,” Angones said.
That’s the legacy of Immaculata-La Salle High School, said Salesian Sister Kim Keraitis, who is in her eighth year as principal. The school is currently marking its 60th anniversary.
“When we say we’re building on our legacy, they’re our legacy,” Sister Kim said of the Pedro Pan alumni, adding that they remember the difficulty of their experience in the documentary “but not with bitterness.” She noted the three things they brought with them from Cuba: a love of faith, a love of family and a strong work ethic.
“They’re all the leaders in Miami today,” she said, and yet they lead with great humility. Those are lessons for her students today, as many of them also have left their native countries —especially Venezuela in recent years— due to political upheaval.
“You can’t forget. You have to help kids remember what they’re part of, the sense of purpose you have and the sense of gratitude. You’re blessed, and you have to give back,” Sister Kim told the Florida Catholic.
In her opening remarks before the screening of the documentary, she assured the Pedro Pan and Immaculata-La Salle alumni that “the same spirit you found when you came from Cuba is still here.” The school, she said, “is always here for you. All you have to do is come home at any time.”
Araceli Crotty, who has taught French and Spanish at the high school for the past 26 years, attended the screening to see if she could use the film to teach her students. An immigrant herself from Argentina, she said it would be a way of combining language with culture and local history, especially “now that we also have many Venezuelan students, it’s good for them to know.”
Jorge Guarch, Jr., is another Immaculata-La Salle alumnus whose personal history is entwined with Pedro Pan. His father was the famous “George” who greeted the unaccompanied minors as they landed at Miami International Airport. He met every flight, at any hour, and stayed until every child was picked up and dropped off at the proper shelter, all the while keeping meticulous records.
“My father was very passionate about what he did for the Pedro Pans,” said Guarch, Jr., who serves on the board of Immaculata-La Salle’s Alumni Association. He admitted that his sister has been more involved with the Pedro Pan group than he has.
“I came to La Salle not knowing the significance that La Salle had to the children of Pedro Pan,” he said.
But he noted that he continues to meet Pedro Pans all over the U.S. Whenever he meets someone who introduces himself as “a Cuban by way of Nebraska,” he said, he inevitably asks a couple of follow-up questions: Did you come by plane? Did you come alone?
FIND OUT MORE
To request a screening of the documentary, and for more information on the history of the Pedro Pan exodus, go to: www.pedropan.org.
- Email: email@example.com
- Write to: Operation Pedro Pan Inc., 161 Madeira Ave., Suite 61, Coral Gables, FL 33134.
- Phone: 305-554-7196.