Jesus Miniet Matarama
My name is Jay J. Miniet, aka Jesus Miniet Matarama in the early 1960s. I am a member of Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by those unaccompanied children who came to the United States from Cuba in the period between December 1960 and October 1962. Prior to Fidel Castro coming into power in January 1959, my family was one of those who were considered “middle class” in Cuban society. My family enjoyed a nice life due to the hard work of my father and the loving care of my mother.
After two years of Castro being in power, the nation was led into the beginning of its worst economic period in Cuba’s history. The government went from a semi-democracy to a complete totalitarian regime. The foreign businesses, as well as the local ones, were expropriated by the Revolutionary Government without a legitimate reason. Even the private and religious schools were closed and their priests and nuns were exile from the new Cuba. The children of the revolution were brainwashed to a complete and total blind loyalty, which included betrayal of friends, immediate family members and even parents.
As a result of these circumstances, the Cuban parents became concerned about the future of their children and decided that the time had come to make arrangements to get their offspring out of the island.
It is because of this movement that my family worked behind the scenes to make sure that I could migrate to the USA by myself. That is how I became one of those children who found themselves leaving their family behind without really understanding what was taking place and what tomorrow might bring.
The day I left Cuba, my father remained behind in the house, and my mother and sister took me to the Rancho Boyeros Airport in Havana. After a long day in a holding area known as “la pecera” (the fish tank), finally we were allowed to depart. We later landed at the Miami airport on July 31, 1961, at about 7 p.m.; together with a bunch of other children, who at that time it was unknown to me were traveling, like me, unaccompanied.
We were collected by a nice man by the name of “George,” the only name that my parents have given me to contact upon arrival to our destination.
After a car ride that it seemed to take forever, we finally arrived to this camp in the middle of nowhere in the outskirts of Miami. After eating a bologna sandwich and drinking a glass of milk, I was taken to a building similar to a military barracks where a bunch of bunk beds were set out in nice rows. This was the end of a long day and the beginning of my life as a Pedro Pan child in America.
The following day, I was able to observe that we were staying at a camp name Matacumbe. There were a couple of buildings that were used as mess halls and class rooms. There were about 20 boys, running between the ages of 10 and 15. I was told that there were other camps for girls and younger boys who came to Miami in the similar circumstances as we did.
There was a fairly big swimming pool next to the dormitories, and the bathroom was set up like an outside latrine. There were no indoor showers, so we used the shower facility next to the pool to groom ourselves. For the next few days, we were given English lessons and some other courses (to keep us busy). Later on, we learned that this camp was just a temporary stage for us, before we could be relocated to a more permanent place in other parts of the USA.
Around the end of August, I was summoned by the priest running the camp, and I was informed that I and two other boys were going to be attending a prep school run by Benedictine Brothers that was located east of Tampa, Fla. Two days later, we were flown to the Tampa airport, where we were met by two nice ladies from the local Catholic Charities group. They drove us to Saint Leo, which was about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Tampa. Upon arrival at the facility, we were turned over to the school’s headmaster. Saint Leo was my home for several years, as I attended prep school and college there.
By the way, I did not get to see my parents until sometime in 1968; my sister was reunited with me in 1984 (our parents were already deceased) and I never got to see my brother again, because he died in Cuba in 1981.