Life in an Archive: Examining Operation Pedro Pan, 1960-1962

Program Brought 14,000 Unaccompanied Children to the U.S.

by Natalie Baur, Cuban Heritage Collection Archivist


A young girl holds her doll as she arrives in the United States with the Operation Pedro Pan Program, circa 1960-1962. From “Cuba’s children in exile: the story of the Unaccompanied Cuban Refugee Children’s Program.” Cuban Refugee Center pamphlet, 1967. (Cuban Refugee Center Records, CHC0218).

Between 1960 and 1962, more than fourteen thousand unaccompanied children left their families in Cuba for a new life in the United States, many of them arriving through Miami. They came as part of a program run by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami, with the support of the U.S. Department of State, known as Operation Pedro Pan. Through the program a large number of children were reunited with family already in the United States, but about half spent their early years in their new country under the care of the Catholic Welfare Bureau. Operation Pedro Pan is an important part of U.S. immigration history, Miami history, and a powerful moment in the Cuban exile community.

In 1961, a month before her fifteenth birthday, Cuban Heritage Collection staff member Gladys Gómez Rossie boarded an airplane alone in Havana and started her journey to the home of an aunt and uncle living in New York. Eventually relocating to Miami when her unaccompanied younger brother arrived, seventeen years passed before Gladys was reunited with her parents in the United States.


Cuban boys take a sled ride in Columbus, Ohio, circa 1960s. (Cuban Refugee Center Records, CHC0218)

Because of her own experiences, Gladys is dedicated to helping tell her own story and those of countless other Pedro Pan alumni through the power of the archives. Gladys uses materials from the Cuban Heritage Collection archives to share the dynamic history of Operation Pedro Pan with members of the University of Miami’s Federation of Cuban Students, for which she serves as the group’s adviser. Now a beloved annual event for the group, many students look forward to the Operation Pedro Pan presentation as a way to learn about the immigration experiences of their parents and grandparents through photographs, documents, and guest speakers.

Many of the memories and stories around Operation Pedro Pan are preserved and open for study and reflection at the Cuban Heritage Collection. Starting last year, Florida Atlantic University intern Alexandra Díaz processed collections relating to Operation Pedro Pan and created an online subject guide to help users explore the Cuban Heritage Collection’s holdings on the experiences of Pedro Pan families.

James Baker (right), former director of the Ruston Academy in Havana, Cuba, receives an award with Monsignor Bryan Walsh (left) at an Operation Pedro Pan alumni event in 1980 recognizing their instrumental work in organizing Operation Pedro Pan. (Ruston Academy Records, CHC5293).

James Baker (right), former director of the Ruston Academy in Havana, Cuba, receives an award with Monsignor Bryan Walsh (left) at an Operation Pedro Pan alumni event in 1980 recognizing their instrumental work in organizing Operation Pedro Pan. (Ruston Academy Records, CHC5293).

Stay tuned throughout Archives Month for stories about how UM students, researchers, donors, and community members are breathing life into UM Libraries’ unique and distinctive collections. Happy Archives Month!

Scholar Spotlight: Anasa Hicks

Anasa Hicks was a 2013-2014 CHC Graduate Pre-Prospectus Fellow. A doctoral student in history at New York University, she authored the following report about her fellowship and her research on “Domestic Work in 20th Century Cuba.” 

Anasa HicksBefore beginning research at the Cuban Heritage Collection, I knew that I wanted to write about domestic workers, but I was not sure exactly what that would mean. My interest in the topic stemmed from an interest in the experiences of black women in twentieth-century Cuba, many of whom had been domestics; but I was not sure what aspect or theme within the lives of domestic workers would ground my research.

The sources I found at the Cuban Heritage Collection suggest the possibility that exploring the meaning of domestic work itself—that is, asking questions about who does it and when, who never does it and why, and when legislators or charitable institutions become involved in issues surrounding domestic work—could yield a broader and more interesting analysis than just focusing on the experiences of a specific group of domestic workers. Certainly, many black women were domestic workers—but as the CHC’s extensive collection of the Gaceta de la Habana showed me, so were Chinese men. Anglophone Caribbean women migrated with their men to become domestics in eastern Cuba; and recently arrived Spanish women were often nursemaids. Sources like the Gaceta and conversations with staff members at the CHC clarified the diversity of identities among domestic workers in Cuba.

Other CHC holdings highlighted domestic work’s centrality to upholding Cuba’s class divisions. Americans travelers to Cuba regularly noted that middle- and upper-class families defined themselves in large part by their ability to hire domestic help. Employing domestic workers was definitional to what it meant to be an elite Cuban woman: one observer of Cuban culture wrote that “the well-to do Cuban will not allow his wife to do any housework. Cooking, washing or scrubbing would lower her to the level of a servant.” ¹ Early twentieth-century travelogues demonstrated that the institution of paid domestic labor reinforced gender, racial, and class identities and hierarchies.

The theme of education, specifically the need to educate (certain) young women to perform domestic work, emerged from the documents I found as well. Lyceum y Lawn Tennis Club, a women’s social club, was an intellectual and social service staple in Havana society from its founding in 1939 to its end in 1968. The women of the club hosted talks, offered vocational and academic classes, founded the island’s first public library and even had an art gallery. Education was central to Lyceum’s mission to “foment in the woman a collective spirit;” the club offered such classes as English language, Swiss cooking, and Cuban history.

In perusing the Gaceta oficial, I found detailed plans for an “Escuela del Hogar” which opened in Havana in 1919. The school, open to young women between fifteen and twenty-five years old, aimed to educate them in the art of domesticity, offering classes such as sewing, ironing, and cooking. None of the classes offered were as erudite as the selection offered at Lyceum. Elsewhere in Latin America, similar institutions were essentially feeder programs into the homes of wealthy benefactors: working-class girls attended the schools and then became domestics. It is difficult to know whether this was the case in Cuba, or for whom this kind of education was intended. Did young middle-class and elite women enroll, or would such tasks be beneath them? Studying domestic work would shed light on the reasons for which some women were educated in how to iron clothes and linens while others learned French and flower arrangement.

My findings in Miami have allowed me to think more clearly about why domestic work interests me. A study of how domestic labor got done in Cuba, when it was paid for and when it was taught and to whom, can allow historians to gain new understandings of labor, of gender, of class and race relations. My findings at the CHC were essential to my presentation at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in May of 2014. Additionally, what I have found at the CHC this summer will guide the drafting of my prospectus as I prepare to defend it and will guide my questions as I continue my dissertation research.

¹ Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1950): 144.

This Just In: Fragmentos: Revista Mensual

by Mei Mendez, CHC Librarian


Fragmentos: Revista Mensual

Last year, the Cuban Heritage Collection received several volumes of the Cuban Jewish periodical Fragmentos: Revista Mensual through the generosity of Mr. Moisés Pitchón, whose father, Marco Pitchón, was the editor of the magazine.  The Collection’s holdings of this work range from Volume 4 (January 1955) to Volume 11 (July/September 1964).  With permission from Mr. Pitchón, these issues have been digitized and are available in our digital library.  You can find them here.

Marco Pitchón was born in Turkey and migrated from France to Cuba in 1923.  He founded the B’nai Brith Maimonedes chapter in Havana in 1943 and launched its monthly newsletter, Fragmentos: Revista Mensual. Written in Spanish, Fragmentos was published as a short pamphlet, four pages long, and included a supplement. Articles featured on the front page addressed topics ranging from cinematic portrayals of the Second World War to specific world events or even letters received by the editor.  Inside, shorter articles highlighted important dates in the Jewish calendar.  Several of the supplements found inside the magazine contain letters expressing support for the (then) upcoming publication of the book Jose Martí y la comprensión humana, edited by Pitchón and also published by B’nai Brith.  This book has also been digitized and can be found here.

Special thanks to Moreno Habif for facilitating the donation of Fragmentos to the Cuban Heritage Collection.

UM Libraries’ Archivists Kick Off “Life in an Archive” Series


by Jay Sylvestre, Special Collections Librarian

October has been designated by the Society of American Archives as Archives Month, a collaborative effort by professional organizations, libraries, and archives around the nation to highlight the importance of the records we hold and to raise public awareness about the value of historical records and collections.

To celebrate Archives Month, archivists and librarians from UM Libraries’ unique and distinctive collections will be sharing stories from our experiences working in the archives at the University of Miami. The series will be called “Life in an Archive,” focusing on the stories of people who have used and/or donated to our collections.

Stories will be told from the perspective of archivists who have had the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world:

  • University Archivist Koichi Tasa will talk about leading UM alumni and their family members to photographs and records from their time at UM.
  • Cuban Heritage Collection Librarian Meiyolet Méndez and Archivist Natalie Baur will discuss helping researchers make new discoveries on Cuba and its diaspora.
  • Special Collections Librarian Jay Sylvestre and Manuscripts Librarian Beatrice Skokan will show how artist’s books, zines, and other unique materials held at Special Collections have impacted people’s lives.
  • Electronic Records Archivist Laura Capell and Visiting Archivist Emily Gibson will share stories from working with the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records Collection.

It is interactions like these with members of our community that provide the archivists and librarians at UM Libraries with a rich set of stories to share. Stay tuned for posts this month about alumni, veterans, researchers, and donors who have allowed us to be a part of their journey. I hope that you enjoy reading our stories as much as we enjoy sharing them.

Happy Archives Month!

Scholar Spotlight: Maikel Fariñas Borrego

Maikel Fariñas Borrego was a 2013-2014 CHC Graduate Pre-Prospectus Fellow. A doctoral student in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he authored the following report about his fellowship and his research on “Regional Pressure Groups in Cuba: Local Elites and Conflicting Interests, 1888-1968.” 

Maikel Fariñas BorregoI was in residence at the Cuban Heritage Collection as a Pre-Prospectus Fellow from June through July 2013. The number and variety of sources I consulted have proven to be highly valuable to my project. As my project is focused on the study of local to national and transnational civil society, the elites and their conflicting interests in the twentieth century, the expressions of sociability and associations in particular are extremely important. Between 1888 and the 1930s many new forms of associations were established in Cuba. Both the Spanish traditions and the North American culture inspired a considerable number of organizations. This second influence, however, attracted the elites overwhelmingly. Many of the new organizations started in Havana and later spread all over the country. The social hierarchies and class distinctions were majorly shaped by the actions and members of the new incoming clubs. That is why a case study of Rotary International, its influences in Cuba, and the local Rotary Clubs throughout the archipelago can inform about both civil societies interactions. The Rotarian organizations and the global networks of Rotary Clubs got to spread profusely in Cuba. In this process, aside of their typical philanthropic aims, they intervened in almost every sphere of the country’s economy, politics and even foreign affairs.

Among the pamphlets and books, many materials will allow me to study the special relationship that these social clubs held with chambers of commerce, especially the “Cámara de Comercio de la República de Cuba” and the “American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba.” There are directories which can be studied as databases to identify the common members of the two organizations. In addition, there are other books providing abundant information on these institutions (e.g. American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba. Cuba: Facts and Figures). In rare books we can also appreciate the importance of an American community in Cuba and how far they managed to establish themselves on the Island of Pines (Stephen Chalmers. Isle of Pines: Where the Pine and the Palm Tree Meet). This is particularly relevant to the intervention of Cuban Rotarians on the Cuban claims of sovereignty over the second largest island of the archipelago; which was finally established in 1925 after the ratification of the Hay-Quesada treaty. Many materials are specifically related to Rotary and Lions in Cuba (e.g. Club de Leones de La Habana. Directorio año social 1947-1948 and the Club Rotario Marianao. Directorio 1958-59). These booklets can provide essential information about the membership, the type of Rotarian businesses and even the places they chose for residence on the island. By understanding similar organizations such as Lions Clubs I gain a more in depth comprehension of Rotarians.

Another point to consider is the importance of the close relationship of Cuban Rotarians with their peers in the United States during World War II (Rotary Club of Havana. A hundred letters from the front). Conferences of the Rotarian district (Rotary Club of Marianao. Memoria de la XXXIII Conferencia del distrito 101: sede, Club Rotario de Marianao) left behind abundant sources of information. The many lectures given at Rotarian gatherings promoted a patriotic spirit among Cubans (e. g. Raúl Maestri. Movilización económica de las Américas and Luis Rodolfo Miranda. Homenaje a José Martí en el Club Rotario  de la Habana). It should be mentioned that yearbooks are especially important because of the amount of information they can provide to the investigation (Distrito 25º de Rotary International. Memoria de las actividades desarrolladas por el Dr. Manuel Galigarcía, Gobernador del Distrito 25º de Rotary International).

Abundant archival sources related to the culture of the exile document how Rotarians and Lions formed a substantial part of the integration of Cubans who came to Miami after the Revolution of 1959. The vertical files were informative about this process as well as for many other Cuban institutions and national and local personalities. Other important collections at the CHC contributed substantively to my research (e. g. Gerardo Machado y Morales Papers, Lydia Cabrera Papers, and José Lezama Lima Papers).

The collections are carefully preserved and the work environment that permeates the CHC is very supportive of research. The staff provides the best of services and I want to thank in particular Maria Estorino, Gladys Gomez-Rossie, Annie Sansone-Martinez, Meiyolet Mendez, Rosa Monzon-Alvarez. Thanks to them, their service and the preservation of documents, we can count on these collections to write a significant portion of the history of Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

Materials on View

The Cuban Heritage Collection has contributed books, photographs, documents, and original art from our holdings to four external exhibitions on view this fall. If you see our materials at any of these, snap a photograph and tag us on Instagram or Twitter @UMCHC.

Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds at the Boston College McMullen Museum of Art, August 30-December 14, 2014, at the High Museum of Art Atlanta, February 14-May 24, 2015

Margarita Cano: Once Upon an Island at the Miami-Dade College Wolfson Campus Centre Gallery, September 4-October 31, 2014

Kept at Bay: Art on Guantánamo at Florida International University’s Frost Art Museum, September 10-October 19, 2014

The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom at Miami-Dade College Museum of Art + Design at Freedom Tower, opening on September 19, 2014