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 de los Angeles Hernandez Valero

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Maria de los Angeles's Story

I came to the US with my younger brother Nicolas Pablo who was 10 years of age at the time, and I was 12. As soon as we arrived in Miami, we were taken to The Florida City Camp where we stayed until April 1962, when we were sent to live in a foster home with an American family, the Goodwin's in Lake Charles, LA. Pat and Ernest Goodwin had 2 children of their own, Marie Therese and Michael. This wonderful American family were very good to us. We were treated as part of the family. Pat and Ernest asked us to call them Tío and Tía, a very subtle way of letting us know that they could never take the place of our parents. On my 13th birthday, 4 months after we arrived from Cuba, they took us to Disneyland and Hollywood, it was a dream come through for me since I had always wanted to visit these two places. We lived with the Goodwin's for one year, when we were reunited with our parents and our little sister Teresita Victoria in New Orleans, LA. We will always remember this kind and loving American family, and we will always keep them in our prayers. My family settled in New Orleans, and little by little many of our relatives came from Cuba to live with us (grandparents, paternal aunts and uncle).

I have a story that I want to share with all of you. On August 8, 1963, my dad, Celso M. Hernández Machado, went to Canal St. in downtown New Orleans, looking for a job. When he got off the bus, he encountered an American man with a sign that read "Fair Play for Cuba", this man was no other than Lee Harvey Oswald, who 3 months later in Nov. 1963 was accused of killing JFK (John F. Kennedy). As it was expected, my dad became very upset because Oswald was backing-up the Castro regime, imagine a newly arrived Cuban refugee meeting a pro-Castro activist. Since my dad did not speak English, thus was not able to communicate with Oswald he decided to go to a friend's store located in Decatur St. two block away to ask him if he could go with him to find Oswald and translate what he wanted to tell him. Immediately, my dad's friend Carlitos Bringuier and another Cuban named Miguel Cruz, who was at the store, decided to go with my dad to Canal St. to find Oswald. Oswald had moved from the location where my dad had seen him, thus, the three of them got on the Canal St. streetcar to see if they could locate Oswald. Once they found him, they got off the streetcar and my dad did not even wait for Carlitos to talk to Oswald, he immediately hit Oswald and took the sign away from him. They both struggle and within a few minutes the police came. Oswald, Carlitos, Miguel and my dad were taken to jail for disturbing the peace. To make the study short, the 4 of them spent the night in jail. The following day, the judge found Oswald guilty, and charged him with a $25 fine for disturbing the peace. Now, when I look back at the incident, it was funny that Oswald was the one who was fined for disturbing the peace, and not my dad since my dad was the one who started the altercation. My dad was the most anti- communist person I have ever met, and a very passionate Cuban patriot, who wanted for his country to be free from the Castro dictatorship. That was the reason why he became so upset and furious when he saw that Oswald was trying to defend such a bloody and undemocratic regime. After the JFK assassination, many stories have been written about the encounter my dad had with Oswald, many of these stories are not factual. Even the portrayal of the encounter of the Cubans with Oswald in the JFK movie by Oliver Stone was erroneously portrayed. Of course, Stone would have never sided with the struggle of the Cuban nation, since he is an admirer of Castro and Chávez, that is the reason why he portrayed the Cuban exiles in his movies as mere low class criminals. I have made a promise to myself that one day I will write the true story of what really happened when my dad met Oswald in Canal St. three months before the JFK assassination.

Now, let me briefly tell you what has become of me. In 1974 I moved from New Orleans to Miami, where I worked at the Cuban Refugee Center until Nov. 1979 when I moved to Boston. In 1981, I was awarded a scholarship at The New School for Social Research in NYC, where I lived until 1986, when I decided to relocate to Houston, Texas where I obtained a job teaching at the University of Houston - Clear Lake. In 1995, I received a doctoral degree in Public Health from The University of Texas, and after graduation was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship by the National Cancer Institute at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. During the last 15 years, I have been a faculty member at this institution, conducting health disparities and cancer prevention research in the area of environmental health and childhood obesity among children of Mexican origin. In 2009, I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to conduct cancer prevention research at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México in Toluca, where I am currently an invited professor. When I retire, which should be very soon, I plan to spend the rest of my life writing, and making sure that our struggle, that is the struggle of the Cuban people is truly told.

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Status update | Jun 17th 2013


Message by VIVIAN PAZ PAZ | Jun 15th 2013

Hello Maria. I noticed your maternal last name is Valero. What is your mothers full name and did she have family in Camaguey? I ask because my maternal last name is Valero and my mothers family is from Camaguey.

Message by Marta Castillo Valero | Jun 4th 2013

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Status update | Apr 20th 2013

María de los Angeles: I have two powerpoint/videos in YouTube describing Operation Pedro Pan, in my own words. If you would like to see them, just go to YouTube and in search write my name. The two presentations are at the end of a series of interviews. Hope you like them. Eloísa

Message by Eloísa Echazábal | Apr 18th 2013

Maria de los Angeles says: I wish I had money to produce a movie about the Operation Pedro Pan. Our story is not well known, and it should be told!!!!!

Status update | Apr 18th 2013

Great story! I'm glad you're able to debunk at least in part that historical travesty of a film by Castro- and Chavez-loving Oliver Stone: JFK. I had read about your academic and professional accomplishments someplace else and I commend you for your love of knowledge, exceptional perseverance and outstanding professional commitment. Undoubtedly, you are one of the reasons why Pedro Pans are held in such high esteem by freedom-loving people throughout the world. I wish you well now and in the future. By the way, I would like to see you write about your Pedro Pan experience as a child in Louisiana. I look forward to reading it! José Antonio Amaro Reyes.

Message by Jose Antonio Amaro Reyes | Apr 18th 2013

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Status update | Apr 18th 2013

Maria de los Angeles has updated their profile.

Status update | Jan 4th 2013

Maria de los Angeles has joined the Pedro Pan Network. Please welcome them!

Status update | Oct 3rd 2011

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