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:

Luis Crispín Pérez Barrios

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Luis Crispín's Story

I arrived at Miami Airport on Pan-American Airways at age 10,on Sept. 21st,1961. I was born in San Luis, Pinar del Rio and remember the rich tobacco industry and family farm in El Retiro,San Luis,tobacco growing region known as Vuelta Abajo. My family lost all their material possessions: the farm, family car, agricultural tractors,equipment,cattle, home,etc.,the so-called agrarian reform meant that the government was confiscating farms and administering them under a communist centralized,soviet-style collective system.

Our family principles, beliefs and morals were retained; a government that went to the extent that before my family was allowed to leave Pinar del Rio,their savings were frozen and stolen by the government-owned banks,an extortion system. My grand-father never stole his possessions,the family earned them the old fashioned way;they worked very hard from sunrise to sunset.My ancestors did not own any African slaves.

My paternal great-aunt accepted me in her home in Miami,1961-1964. I attended Miramar Elementary School on 14 Street and NW 2nd Avenue from 4th grade to 6th grade.Relocated to Queens, New York, my paternal aunts received me in their home from 1964-1967; I assisted St. Joseph's Roman Catholic School,7th and 8th grades; William Cullen Bryant High School,9th to 12th grades,and attended CCNY,Hunter College,New York City Campus,while working 40 hours a week from 6:00 P.M. to 2:00 A.M. in the Electronic Data Processing Chemical Bank of New York. My parents arrived in New York after six (6) years of family separation,in 1967. I was in my senior year of high school. I'll let you imagine the family reunion.

I was their guide, counselor and translator for many years because of the language barrier and trauma of the unknown; imagine refugees from a rural setting suddenly living within the cosmopolitan rapid pace life of New York City, plus the extreme change in climate.

The communist dictatorship and its soviet-style repression had taken hold of my homeland; deceit, jail, firing squads were used as a means to attain political goals and justify the ends.Absolute denial of human rights to the decent and hard working Cuban citizens, who were deceived by a group of blood-thirsty envious vampires.

I had the joy of having lived with paternal family members,great-aunt in Miami and aunts in New York; other Pedro Pan brothers and sisters were not as lucky;some were even sexually and mentally abused;lots of prayers to the Immaculate Virgin Mary gave me spiritual strength; particularly at night, while many tears fell on my pillow quietly at night;a boy was not supposed to cry! The thought of not ever seeing my parents and immediate family was devastating. I thank our Lord Jesus Christ that I have enjoyed the many constitutional freedoms of this nation, the advantages of living within its strong institutions and the incentives of the capitalist economic system.The joy of reunification with my parents, paternal grandmother, brother and sister; my dear grand-fathers passed on in Cuba, I never saw them again; my destiny changed in 1961. Families were divided by hatred,separation. ENVY of others' possessions is often capable of creating monsters that covet their neighbors' assets, without any concern for the difficulties and sacrifices that others faced to earn them. Unlike Peter Pan,who refused to grow up, we had to mature very fast, and proudly became very responsible individuals at an early age. Peter Pan flew and lived in paradise; we flew unlike Peter Pan, to a strange land, a different language; and left our Pearl of the Antilles, our paradise island behind with tears, a deeply broken heart and alienation; separated from our families and homes;another event in world history to NOTE: during the Adolf Hitler dictatorship, thousands of Jewish children were sent out of Nazi Germany by their parents via England and other countries to the save their lives. I worked very closely with one of its members and this is why I know their story. Like the Jewish people, Cuban exiles now live scattered everywhere on this planet. I have been married for 39 years, have a 37 year old son and three grand-daughters. Family photos are attached to my profile here on this page. I have worked for 39 years within the International Trade, Exports Field; Freight Forwarding Manager in New York, Texas, Florida and Indiana. I speak fluent Spanish, English and French and it helps immensely within International Commerce. The entire planet needs to be aware of our exodus; there is tremendous ignorance and misconceptions about the Castro dictatorship,because there has not been a source to inform them. The sufferings and human rights violations of the Cuban people need to be told and preserved for future generations. I have not forgotten my roots, tradition, food, literature and music. My favorite song: "Yo Volvere" by Eduardo Davidson, sang by Zoraida Marrero. I am proud to be a member of this group of brothers and sisters; a small town composed of over 14,000 citizens.It would have been close to 100,000 unaccompanied children had it not been for the closing of flights due to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Pedro Pan is a united brotherhood with strong common roots,sufferings, joys and accomplishments.

Iam proud to be a member of this humanitarian brotherhood; ready to be involved in helping orphans, families in need; and someday, those of us that are still alive, ASSIST in the reconstruction of our homeland without malice or vengeance;once Democracy with its strong transparent institutions and constitutional rights for every citizen becomes a daily political reality. History has proven that DICTATORS ultimately fail; collective economic systems are OBSOLETE; humanity has always DEMANDED justice, freedom and protection under the law; within an economic system that allows incentives, rewards, education,financial growth and security for its citizens. Our political case is a puzzle wrapped around an ENIGMA.We see how events,decisions based on the options available at a given moment affect world events and somewhat naive peoples' lives.

I pray that our history WILL NEVER be forgotten, that future generations do not commit the same errors of judgement, this is why we must preserve our experience forever.

We are eternally in debt to the Catholic Welfare Bureau, Catholic Charities, Msgr. Bryan Walsh, and the officials that helped us with the Visa Waivers, and their concern; also to the many families that provided care. Grateful to our parents for their vision, emotional endurance and guts; that prevented communist indoctrination full of hatred,envy and servitude,and the experience of living under a totalitarian system for each one of the Pedro Pan children.

I pray every day that our CARIDAD DEL COBRE and CRISTO REY help my people in the struggle to enjoy basic human rights, and democratic as well as economic freedoms.I dream of a future return,as an old tearful Pedro Pan man,celebrating Catholic mass at the National Cathedral in Havana.

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