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 Menendez Menendez

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Maria De los Angeles's Story

I came to the United States alone carrying my favorite doll, Albertico. I had just turned seven and really did not fully understand that I was leaving the world I knew for good. I thought I was going to visit my cousins in Miami for "a while"...

I remember my parents Angel and Maria taking a picture of me with my doll on the steps of our house in Havana before leaving for the airport. The neighbors came out to give me a hug, The Alvarez family that lived next door.

At the airport it was very confusing. I was used to being with my parents and when I was put in the "pecera" or "fish tank" as I have heard it called now. I could see them waving but felt very alone. My Father, Angel Menendez had asked a woman traveling with her daughter to watch over me but suddenly they were no where in site. I don't remember being stripped down as other kids but I remember hugging my doll and feeling very afraid. On the flight I was sitting by the window and a flight attendant did come and talk to me and asked about my doll and his name.

When I arrived in Miami I got very confused and somehow got separated from the group and did not know where to go. I spoke no English. I found a water faucet and sat on the bench next to it with my doll and someone came and took me to a big room full of people. In that room, they were calling out the name of the children and the families would claim them.

I did not see any faces I knew but when they called my name my Tia Marta and Raquel came running up saying "Cuqui, Cuqui!" I was so happy to see them! I was very lucky to have family to take me to their home and take care of me until my parents where able to arrive six months later. I lived with my great Aunt Angela and jer husband Agustin Nodal/ My cousin Martica Gispert was there most of the time and was a year older. I always felt that I was sorrounded by family. Fico and Marta Gispert and my cousin my age Martica Gispert: thank you always for making me feel at home.

There were like three families living under one roof but we managed. Agustin was a minister of the Methodist church so we helped the church and the church helped all of us as well.

I remember one day shortly after arriving my cousin and I were playing outside. Suddenly, I heard a plane flying very loudly and low. I was terrified and ran so hard towards the door that I fell and cut myself. I was desperate to get inside the house and shaking. No one understood why I reacted that way. My fear came from those last months in Havana when the planes would come and just shoot into the streets randomly and I was already accustomed to running inside and hiding in the safest corner which according to my parents was the all tile bathroom with only one small window. For years the sound of a low flying plane terrified me.

When my parents arrived six months later,they were told they could not stay in Miami...there were not enough jobs. We did not want to leave as the only family we had was here. However, we were told that we had to go and the choices were Los Angeles, CA or Pittsburgh, PA. My father asked, "where does it not snow?" and agreed to go to California. We knew no one there and I know for my parents, it must have been very frightening. However, we went to the Freedom Tower (El Refugio then) and they gave us our flight information, gave us coats to wear (It was Dec 11, 1962 and so cold.) and we were off to this foreign place where we thought only films were made. (There are so many stories I could share but alas...this is not to be a book!)

Upon arrival in Los Angeles we were greeted by a family called the Sotos (Aurelio and Aurelia as I remember their names) who were our sponsors and through them and the congregation of the church(I think it was St. Catherines in Redondo Beach, CA) a small one bedroom apt. had been arranged in Redondo Beach, California with minimal furnishings. The Soto family with five kids of their own where so kind to us as was everyone at the church.

People were kind. I remember an older woman who lived in the same apartments alone would let me come to her apt. in the afternoon to watch the cartoons. Within weeks my Dad had work and somehow we made it work.

It was our new beginning and our new end. My Parents never expected to never return to Cuba and for years kept everything in boxes and bought minimal things; after all this was not home.

Well, we later moved to Hawthorne, Calif (Affectionally called "the city of good neighbors) and rented a one bedroom apt where we lived for eight years...again parents always planning when they were going back home. I grew up in Hawthorne, learned English, joined girl scouts and essential had a normal American life except that by the age of 9 both parents were working and I was a key latch kid for years but managed to stay our of trouble.

I have no complaints about my life in the US. It was not always easy but I was blessed with meeting wonderful people who always guided me well. In college I met my husband, Fernando Monfort Gutierrez, also a Pedro Pan and by the way, the only Cuban boy I ever dated.

We have a beautiful family and have lived in many countries but consider our heritage to be always: US first as we grew up here: Spain second as both of our parents were of direct Spanish descent and we lived there as a family. Sadly, Cuba is a memory that is fading as my few family members and little history die. I was originally Maria de los Angeles from Angel Menendez/Valladares and Maria Jesusa Morejon Castro. They were both only children with no family.

I do not have a lot of information about my Mother as she was an orphan as I was told. My father was raised by my grandmother Amalia Menendez as a single mother. Ricardo Valladares, my grandfather, was never involved in my life or for the most part, my fathers. I wish I knew more about my parents. I lost both of them in Miami in 2011 and later in 2012. They were married 62 years and went through so much together. I was blessed to have them as my parents and I thank God every day for taking care of us through so many changes.

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Bienvenida, Maria de los Angeles: I was moved by your story, especially when you share that you realize how your memories of Cuba have faded, and even your connection to the island will eventually disappear as those who remember it pass away. I am grateful that you've told your story and hope that in this telling there was also a re-connection with your roots, however tenuous. I think that, by keeping memories alive, stories also help us understand many things about our life in the present. Many blessings to you and your family.

Message by Yolanda Cardenas Ganong | Nov 19th 2013

Welcome! ¡Bienvenida! Enjoyed reading your Pedro Pan testimonial. We were also relocated, but to snowy place, Kansas, in the middle of winter. As it was the case with your family, we had plenty of help from many people in the community. Kids in Junior and High Schools were great! In retrospect, despite the initial hardships, my family and I fared better than many people who were born here. For that I will always be grateful to both the US government and the American people. Thanks for sharing your story!

Message by Jose Antonio Amaro Reyes | Nov 16th 2013

Welcome to the Pedro Pan network, Maria de los Angeles. Where do you presently live. There's a Pedro Pan group in California and Miami. Several cities around the US have or have had reunions. Atlanta has a group that meets for lunch once in a while. If you are interested and need info to get in touch with them, let me know. Don't be lonely....there's 14,000 of us........

Message by Susy Rodriguez | Nov 7th 2013

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Status update | Nov 7th 2013

Maria De los Angeles has updated their profile.

Status update | Nov 7th 2013

Maria De los Angeles has updated their profile.

Status update | Sep 11th 2013

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