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:

Elisa Vilano Ojeda

Elisa's Story

Through boundless energy, passion and sheer force of personality, Elly Vilano Chovel put a face to the name “Pedro Pan.” Formed in 1991, Elly was the driving force of Operation Pedro Pan Group for 16 ...

Click here to read the full story

Elisa's News Feed

Leave a public message for Elisa.

Page 1 2 3 4 Next >>

Dear Elly: Thank you for being the founder and the force behind Operation Pedro Pan Group. May you rest in peace, near the Lord. Con muchos cariños, Eloísa

Message by Eloísa Echazábal | Aug 31st 2013

Elisa says: Rest in peace Elly Chovel who passed 6 years ago today. She was the soul of OPPG. She is always on our minds, in our hearts in our prayers... XXOO

Status update | Aug 31st 2013

My dear Elly, I miss you so much ,as a pedropan sister and a friend,it was fun spending time with you and sharing a cafe con leche and tostada and talking for hours,you will always be in my thoughs and prayers. Nita.

Message by Juanita Garcia | Aug 31st 2013

Elisa has uploaded new photos.

Status update | Oct 25th 2012

Elisa says: Dedication of "Elly Chovel Rd" will be Nov. 2nd at noon on SE 15th Road between Brickell and the Bay in Miami. Please RSVP to

Status update | Oct 25th 2012

There's a street being dedicated in Elly Chovel's name on Nov 2nd, in Miami, FL. Brigid Prio will have to post all the details.

Message by Emy Botet | Oct 25th 2012

Dear Elly. Thanks for your friendship and guidance. I will always remember you for being authentic and compassionate. May God always shine on you! Jay

Message by JESUS CASTAÑO | Sep 6th 2012

Elly. From Washington, where you came to represent Pedro Pan at the Nat'l Archives, I will always keep you in my heart as a great person. I miss you! Jay

Message by JESUS CASTAÑO | Sep 6th 2012

Dear Elly, I will always remember your beautiful and welcoming smile. Although I only met you during the last year of your life, I got to share some wonderful moments with you, always talking about your children, grandchildren and your bigger family, your Pedro Pan brothers/sisters that you so much loved. After you were gone, while being a volunteer in this website, I had the priviledge to find your airport log, that had been missplaced for many years and that you have never gave me much happiness and I always thought that it was your way of letting me know you were in a better place. I am sure you are organizing a big party for all of us in heaven and it is going to be great! Love, Carmencita

Message by Carmencita Romanach | Sep 3rd 2012

Elisa has uploaded new photos.

Status update | Sep 1st 2012

Page 1 2 3 4 Next >>

Leave a message for Elisa

Your message
Your name
Your e-mail