Operation Peter Pan (Operación Peter Pan or Operación Pedro Pan) Over four decades ago, Cuban parents fearing indoctrination and that the Cuban government would take away their parental authority exercised one of the most fundamental human rights: the right to choose how their children would be educated.
From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States. What is now known as Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded exodus of Unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.
The exodus of the Cuban children was virtually unknown for over 30 years. Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh who is considered the Father of our Exodus states that the name had only appeared in print in March of 62' and in a Reader's Digest article in 1988. It was through the effort and work of Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. that the name Operation Pedro Pan became known throughout the US and the world.
Approximately, half of the minors were reunited with relatives or friends at the airport. More than half were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, directed by a 30 year old Irish priest, Bryan O. Walsh. The children from the Cuban Refugee Children's Program were placed in temporary shelters in Miami, and relocated in 30 States.
OPERATION PEDRO PAN GROUP, INC. is the Official National Charitable organization founded in 1991 by the former unaccompanied Cuban children. It was created to fulfill the Pledge of Thanksgiving given in 1990, in which we honor the sacrifice of our parents and this noble nation that welcomed us, and the person that made it all possible, Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh. We felt it was our duty to pay back the kindness by helping today's needy children. OPPG Inc. is a non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-profit organization, tax exempt under Section 501 C3 of the Internal Revenue Code. Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh was the Chairperson of the organization until his death on December 20th, 2001. Under his direction, in order to protect & to allow the public to identify the organization and its services we obtained the Registration of our Trademark by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce on December 1993.
All the unaccompanied Cuban minors who were part of the exodus now popularly known as Operation Pedro Pan, call ourselves Pedro Pans. In 1962, the US government commissioned a documentary film created for the children who came to Miami, called The Lost Apple. The film named Cuban premier Fidel Castro as being responsible for the parents' non-appearance. According to Torres, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy approved making the documentary as part of the US government’s campaign against Communism.
On March 12, 1999, the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, ruled in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit filed by Prof. Maria de los Angeles Torres in 1998 that “evacuation of Cuban children turned out not to be a CIA operation at all” (see: http://www.leagle.com/decision/199999939FSupp2d960_1906) thus clearing the C.I.A. of charges alleging that it conceived and carried out the operation. This ruling was based in part on the court’s review of 733 pages of documentation provided to the Court by the C.I.A. and employed by the Court in reaching an earlier decision on December 15, 1998 that “nothing in this Court's review suggests any inappropriateness in the redactive process that has been followed by CIA.” (see: http://www.leagle.com/decision/199852629FSupp2d497_1459).
Amongst several famous "Peter Pans" is Florida Senator Mel Martinez. Also, Latin musician Willy Chirino, who has cultivated the Miami Sound, and his wife singer/songwriter Lissette Alvarez. Once adults, some of the participants created the charitable organization "Operation Pedro Pan Group" to help needy children and preserve the history of the Pedro Pan exodus. Ex-Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Margarita Esquiroz came to Miami in 1962 as part of Pedro Pan.
Yvonne M. Conde, also a Pedro Pan, conducted research and interviews and wrote a book titled "Operation Pedro Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban Children".
Other Pedro Pans have attempted to weave their memoirs into a broader understanding of not only U.S.-Cuba relations but also Cuban Diaspora-Cuba relations. Román de la Campa's Cuba on My Mind: Journeys to a Severed Nation does this by exploring Cuba's two capitals, Havana and Miami, and the hybrid position of the "one-and-half-generation" as well as by using the Elián González affair as a cipher for understanding how adults in both countries used children to achieve the broader ideological goals of the Cold War and how those goals are faring at the so-called "end of history".
Ana Mendieta is another famous Pedro Pan refugee. She was placed in several institutions and foster homes in Iowa and returned to Cuba several times over the course of her short life to "rediscover" her cultural origins. During her visits, she established contacts with the "Volumen Uno" artists, created works in natural settings, and exhibited at the National Museum in Havana. Her work has also been showcased at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and at the Hirshhorn, a Smithsonian Museum, in Washington DC amongst many other International museums. Some of this information was taken from an article titled "A Tree from Many Shores" published by Art Journal.
Christina Diaz Gonzalez wrote The Red Umbrella (Knopf Young Readers, 2010), a young-adult novel fictionalizing her mother's exile from Cuba as a teenager during Pedro Pan.