Wed. May 31st, 2023

Book cover

Between December 1960 and October 1962, under a rescue program created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, 14,048 children were evacuated from Fidel Castro’s Cuba. They were sent by their parents to begin new, safer lives in the country up north. Operation Pedro Pan (also known as Operation Peter Pan) ended abruptly with the outbreak of the Cuban missile crisis. Nine-year-old Tony and his 8-year-old sister, Norma, were two of those thousands of children who were airlifted to Miami. The author’s memoir offers a compilation of recollections from his first 13 months in America. In the wee hours of the morning of March 15, 1962, Tony’s widowed mother brought him and Norma to the airport terminal in Havana, where the anxious youngsters boarded a Pan American plane to Miami. After they disembarked, they were brought by bus to Florida City, a gated, makeshift refugee camp where they put their temporary foster parents. Six weeks later, the siblings were transferred to Saint Vincent’s Orphanage in Vincennes, Indiana. The majority of the children at Saint Vincent’s were orphaned or abandoned Americans, plus a few Canadians. But the Cubans were different. They were political exiles with hopes of being reunited with their parents in the future. Their most important job was to learn English. The author’s writing is influenced with a persistent buoyancy, notwithstanding the frightening depictions of life under Castro. He fills detailed anecdotes of his year at the orphanage with reconstructed conversations that display humor and informatively illustrate the meticulous process of learning a new language and a new culture among the strangers who became his friends. There are poignant, teary moments of melancholy and reminiscences of the father he lost to leukemia when he was just 4, but Tony focuses primarily on the comfort he found in the compassion of the nuns who taught and cared for the children (“They cooked for us and fed us, washed our clothes and dirty linen, nursed us when we were sick, prayed with us, and played with us”). Despite a few too many basketball stories, this book delivers an enjoyable immigration story with a uniquely positive perspective.

By cb2gp