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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Hello, Mary. Here we find ourselves again. I am here connecting with our roots through this network. Every time someone signs in I do feel like I need to be there with open arms. One part of my story that I left out was that when I arrived at the Miami airport there were two young women waiting to greet me. They were older students and members of the Marian congregation that I belonged to in Havana. Someone had sent word to them of my arrival, but I had not expected to see anybody I knew at the airport. When I stepped out into the waiting room and saw them there I rushed into their arms and we wept with all the force of the realization of our losses. Gloria Leal was one of them, but I can’t remember the other girl’s name. I went to Florida City, etc. I never saw them again. But that moment and the significance of that “welcome” have remained clearly etched in my memory. In spite of the strong emotions, their presence somehow made the start of my new life here a little less daunting. There are so many little details in our stories that we may never get to tell them all, yet they do keep surfacing and mending that torn fabric of our Cuban past. A big hug to you, mi hermana. ~Yoli

Message by Yolanda Cardenas Ganong | Sep 24th 2009

Mary, no creo que yo haya tenido el gusto de haberte conocido, pero tu nombre si me suena familiar, por algún motivo, me recuerdo que mi Mamá cuando estaba hablando de gente de Sancti Spiritus, mencionaba el nombre de Maria Petronila, no estoy seguro que serías tú, pero no creo que hayan muchas con ese nombre y de S S. Espero que algún día tenga la oportunidad de reunirme con tantas personas que me han brindado su amistad en este grupo, aunque solo sea porque soy primo de la santa Carmen... Es muy posible que seamos primos tu y yo, pues you creo que todos los Valdivia de Las Villas son familia. Definitivamente soy pirata, pero dejé el barco en el río Yayabo, lo tenía escondido debajo del puente, para cuando saliera del teatro Principal, me sirviera de vehiculo de escape... no se si esto funcionará, pero si funciona, chequealo: Bueno, cuídate que de las buenas quedan pocas.

Message by Rafael Quintero Valdivia | Sep 23rd 2009

check you email

Message by Susy Rodriguez | Sep 21st 2009

Hola, Mary: Asi estoy yo tambien con mi cafe aunque ya voy por ultimo buchito de la cafetera. En estos dias he estado revisando algunas fotos pero tengo muy pocas de cuando pequeña en Cuba. Si encontre una que yo le habia enviado a mi mam por el dia de las Madres que estaba yo a lo alto de una canal en el orfelinato. No estoy segura si es del '63 o '64 ya que la fecha esta impresa tan pequeñita que no puedo distinguirla. Total estoy tan lejos en la foto que solo se puede distinguir la figura y el 'ponytail' que tenia en ella. Pense que te podia ir a tomar el cafe el viernes que viene on my way to the 'capital' como dice nuestro PPanero Justo Martinez. Desafortunadamente,no puedo salir de aqui hasta el medio dia por un seminario que tengo que asisir por la mañana y ya entonces voy casi corriendo (si, tengo la pata caliente en el axelerador) para llegar a Miami antes que oscuresca. Te voy a enviar un e-mail con una informacion y a lo mejor de esa manera podemos conversar mas. Un abrazo.

Message by Susy Rodriguez | Sep 19th 2009

Mary, cual es el apellido de Miriam, la amiga de Nelly.

Message by Marcos F. Pinedo | Sep 18th 2009

Hola Mary, acuerdate que ella va por el nombre de Nelly Cherta. Que cosa mas curiosa lo del apellido Cherta. Yo he buscado en la guia telefonica de Cuba para ver si encontraba la farmacia que tenian, pero no me acuerdo del nombre. No puedo pensar quien mas pudiera ayudarnos, debido a que todos estan muertos. Si me acuerdo de algo te lo dejo saber. Tu hermano PP, Marcos Pinedo

Message by Marcos F. Pinedo | Sep 18th 2009

It was a good excuse to exchange words with you, especially, since I was in the process of colando un cafecito! Hope everything is well and we get to meet soon.

Message by Susy Rodriguez | Sep 18th 2009

Amiga: Aquí puedes hallar alguna información sobre el origen del apellido que buscas.

Message by Ivonne | Sep 18th 2009

Mary: El website de Arturo Bueno es y está fantástico! I always recommend it highly to everyone. He is an accomplished webmaster and an excellent Pedro Pan fellow. Manny

Message by Manuel Gutierrez Fernandez de Castro | Sep 18th 2009

Mary: No need to keep apologizing for re-posting...I, myself, took my story off my profile and want to repost but make changes...The more I travel las vias del recuerdo, por mi mente corren cosas que se me habian olvidado. Yo ahorita voy a tener que pedir disculpas por el cambia cambia de fotos que tengo. Un abrazo,

Message by Susy Rodriguez | Sep 18th 2009

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