Scores of Pedro Pan veterans who came to the United States as children
during the child exodus crowded into The Miami Herald pavilion on Sunday to
find their names in a unique database unveiled by the newspaper over the
weekend at Cuba Nostalgia.
"This is a wonderful way to preserve our history," said
Marilu Canton, veteran of Operation Pedro Pan, who found her name among the
list of 14,048 names now kept in the Operation Pedro Pan Database.
Coined by a Miami Herald reporter, Operation Pedro Pan took care of
unaccompanied children between 6 and 17 who arrived alone in
the U.S. between 1960 and 1962. Parents were getting their
children out of Cuba, fearing communist indoctrination spreading in private
and public schools.
After first being placed in camps in Miami-Dade such as Matecumbe,
Kendall, Florida City and Opa-locka, the children had to start new lives in
exile in foster homes, orphanages and boarding schools across the country.
Though many were reunited with their parents quickly, that proved not to
be true in some cases.
The names in the database are from the airport log kept by Jorge
‘‘George'' Guarch, the Catholic church employee sent to greet the
frightened children at Miami International Airport.
The database now offers those who came through the program,
many now in their 50s and 60s, the chance to see their arrival information
and reconnect with each other.
During the weekend, the database saw brisk business at
MiamiHerald.com/pedropan, with some 50,000 hits and nearly 300 Pedro Pans
registering into the Facebook-like database.
Haydee Torres Mestre came out to see her name.ROUGH TIMES
During her years away from her parents, she experienced some harsh
After several days at the Kendall camp, Mestre, then 10, and her
7-year-old sister Aleida, ended up in an orphanage run by Polish nuns in
The two were finally taken in by a farming family from Arcade, N.Y.
‘‘They were wonderful. They had cows and grew corn. I loved it there,"
Pedro Pan veterans deal with their traumatic experiences differently.
Some refuse to discuss it, like her sister, Mestre said. "She doesn't want
to talk about it at all."
But several years ago, her sister took a trip to New York and made a
detour to Buffalo to see the orphanage were they had stayed, by that point
abandoned and set for demolition.
"My sister went inside the building and took two red bricks -- one for
her, and one for me," Mestre said. "I still have it."