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).
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!