Pedro Pan was a program created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami in December 1960 geared toward getting children out of post-revolution Cuba. The man who was instrumental in getting this program started was Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh.
This is one of my favorite pieces from my book of monologues, Cuban, That’s All: An Exile in Three Acts. At our live readings this monologue would elicit profound emotion, especially from those in the audience who had been one of the 14,000 Cuban minors who had found exile in the United States via the Pedro Pan Operation.
(The year is 1994 and Luis is speaking…)
My head is thinking this in Spanish, but my words are coming out in English because today it is my primary language.
The year is 1961. I am nine years old. I am a lost boy and those around me have thrust me into this Neverland.
Those who love me wish to protect me from indoctrination, so today I have started my journey into adulthood.
Yesterday, my parents put me on a plane to the United States.
My mother said I was to pray every night hoping we would soon be together and my father asked me to be strong and not to cry.
Cuban men (I’m a boy) don’t cry.
Meanwhile, both of my parents lost their own battle trying to control their own tears.
I am living in a house with three bedrooms across from a school called Riverside Elementary in the city of Miami.
Each room has six cots and there are five other boys in the room with me.
We all look scared, but each of us is putting up a good front.
Cuban men (we are all boys) don’t cry; it is a sign of weakness.
I will live in this house until I am ten and then I will go live with a family in Englewood, New Jersey who will look after me until my parents arrive from Cuba.
Luckily, my foster family will speak Spanish.
I will not see my parents until December 1965 when they arrive in the United States via the Freedom Flights.
When my mother sees thirteen-year-old me she will be shocked at how much I have grown.
She will hear me speak English and look at me as if I were a genius.
My father will hug me and cry like a baby.
All rules of Cuban men not being allowed to cry will be broken by our reunion.
I will always stay in touch with my foster parents, Tia Loly and Tio Emilio. They will become very good friends to my parents.
I will never forget their kindness for allowing me to feel happiness and find safe shelter in their home (Not all of us would be so lucky).
Their son, Emilito, will become my best friend and business partner.
Together we will build homes and help so many other Cuban families achieve the American Dream.
This memory is coming to you from my future.
Today I am a forty-two year old man who has embraced his Cuban-American roots and is helping all of the other children, all 14,000 of us, find each other.
Back then my name could have been Pedro.
I was a lost boy, one who had lived the Golden Age and was forced, unexpectedly, to grow up.
I was the first of many children who was forced to grow up in Neverland.
Neverland was America.
Fidel Castro was Captain Hook.
Dreams of my distant parents were my magic pixie dust.
And a holy man named Father Walsh helped me find what would become my first happy thought in exile…