Cuban immigrants share precious family heirlooms to show history of Cuban exiles by Janey Fugate Julia Adán Pelegrín, 71, opened a black suitcase full of faded elegant shirts. Those shirts, she explained, belonged to her father, Emilio Adán Silva, when he was a Supreme Court justice in Cuba, and they represented his life before he and 12 other justices signed a letter denouncing Fidel Castro’s government. Eight years later, his family moved to Miami. Those shirts, Pelegrín says, represent the sacrifice her father made for his family and express the pride she feels. “These are not only memories but items of everyday use when Cuba existed as a nation,” Adán said. “[These shirts] were on the streets of Havana. They lived there.” Such feelings of pride and nostalgia prevailed Saturday in the lobby of the Freedom Tower, when dozens of Cubans gathered to donate or lend objects of historic interest that document their exile experience. More than 300 items — passports, documents, photos, clothes — will be part of an exhibit that will open at the tower in September. The inauguration of the exhibit is a key step in the preservation of Cuban history, said Alina Interián, host of the event and executive director of Miami Dade College cultural affairs. “We want to pay tribute to the people to whom this tower means so much,” said Interián, who also was processed at the Freedom Tower when she arrived from Cuba. Between 1962 and 1974, Cuban refugees were processed at the tower, known as “The Refuge.” It was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008. The exhibit, titled “The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom,” is a collaboration between Miami Dade College and the Miami Herald Media Company. Its objective is to document, preserve and share the history of the difficulties the exiled Cuban community went through since Fidel Castro’s rise to power. The facility has deserved a project like this for some time, said Luisa Meruelo, 93, who worked for the tower’s immigration service for nine years. “I was always wondering why no one had done something about the refugees here,” Meruelo said. “This is a long story, a beautiful story.” The exhibit is a way to thank the nation that gave them refuge during that turbulent time, she said. “We have to thank the people of the United States for being so generous to us at a very difficult time,” she said. Now, the museum can show items like the first coins earned in this country, the tie that an immigrant was wearing when he arrived, a wedding gown and the tiny dress of a 3-year-old. To the people who wore them, these items are intimately associated with the difficult experience of having to abandon their native country. One of those people was Mercy Advocat, who arrived in 1962 with her brother in the Pedro Pan Operation. That exodus took place between 1960 and 1962 and brought more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to the United States. “The last thing our parents told us before leaving was that my brother and I should never be separated,” Advocat said. “We then boarded the plane and, when we landed, the first thing they did was separate us — the girls from the boys.” Advocat and her brother eventually were sent to the same foster home in Albuquerque, N.M., and they ended doing what their parents had told them. After two years, they were reunited with their mother in New York. The black-and-white photos Advocat brought to the tower show her mother’s tears when she reunited with her children. She is lending those photos and a doll brought from Cuba — some of her most precious keepsakes — to the museum. She is not ready to part with them yet. “I’m not so old to have to donate them,” she said. © 2014 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved. Read more here:

Maria Petronila Hernandez Valdivia

General Information
Current Name
Maria Petronila Hernandez Mills
Current Location
United States of America
Name on Arrival
Maria Petronila Hernandez Valdivia
Age on Arrival
Date of Arrival
Friday, January 5, 1962
Relocated To
St. Patrick's Home, 5961 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento, CA
Stayed With
Blanca & Ramon Gordon, Florida City

Maria Petronila's Story

I was delivered to Florida City on January 5 1962, by “George” a name, my father made sure I knew upside down and sideways. I remember the night he told me I was to leave Cuba and come to the United S...

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Maria Petronila's News Feed

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Mary, I was in South Florida and missed you again! This is getting ridiculous. I just saw the last photos you posted and loved them. You continue to inspire me to get my mother's old photos out of the boxes and bedraggled albums and organize them once and for all. Have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Message by Yolanda Cardenas Ganong | Nov 22nd 2010

Maria Petronila has uploaded new photos.

Status update | Sep 3rd 2010

Hi Mary, just wanted to say hello and see how you have been doing. Have you been painting? Love to see them. Love, Esther

Message by Marcia Caridad Ramos Gonzalez | Aug 29th 2010

Muy buena idea. Lo hablaré con el Herald.

Message by Eloísa Echazábal | Jul 15th 2010

Por una casualidad encontre leyendo el Herald On-line, el Network de los Pedro Pan. Tu historia me ha conmovido muchisimo y te felicito por la manera que escribes. Me senti por un momento dentro de tus recuerdos y se me saltaron las lagrimas. Aunque no soy Pedro Pan, vivi intensamente los momentos que vivieron atraves de tu fabuloso recuento. Gracias por ser una gran Cubana y por recordar con gran amor a tus padres, nunca olvidandote del gran sacrificio que hicieron por ti.

Message by Alina Arnoldson | Jul 14th 2010

Esa es una idea muy buena, María Petronila. Yo ya le sugerí hace unos meses al board de OPPG que se creara un sub-grupo para los hijos de los Pedro Pans. También se ha comentado en algunos de los desayunos mensuales. La versión que tu sugieres, de crear un link en este Network complementaría muy bien a la del sub-grupo. Trataré de que se le dé seguimiento a la idea. Cariños, Eloísa

Message by Eloísa Echazábal | Jul 14th 2010

Maria Petronila says: Has anyone been contacted by Tomika Anderson from a scholastic magazine in NY about an interviewing PP kids? Her email is

Status update | Jun 10th 2010

I enjoyed reading your story and I am little envious of all your memories. I came to Florida City in 1962 at the age of 16 yet I remember almost nothing about leaving Cuba, the flight and my arrival at the camp. I lived with Mamioli and Papioli Mora, my twin sister and about 18 other girls for almost a year. It took a long time to find foster parents for two 16 y/o's, I guess. My foster parents in Chicago were wonderful and I stayed with them till I finished high school. My mother eventually got out of Cuba and my father never did. I plan to go to the 50 year reunion. If you go, let's try to get acquainted.

Message by Rose Gomez, M.D., D.F.A.P.A. | Jun 10th 2010

Maria, my name is Tomika Anderson and I am a reporter with the Scholastic Magazine for children in New York. I am interviewing Pedro Pan kids for an upcoming piece. If you are interested in telling your story please reach out to me at the email address below. I hope we get to connect soon. All the best, Tomika

Message by Tomika Anderson | Jun 9th 2010

Maria Petronila has uploaded new photos.

Status update | Jun 9th 2010

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