María De los Ángeles Menéndez Menéndez
María De los Ángeles'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 her husband Agustin Nodal and my cousins Marta, Fico and Martica Gispert. I always felt that I was sorrounded by family.
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 apartment in the afternoon to watch the cartoons. Within weeks my Dad had work and we soon we moved to a better area in Hawthorne, CA where I grew up.
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.
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. I know so,little about my family history. Most records and pictures remained in Cuba. I 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, maria Jesusa Castro as she was an orphan as I was told. Her parents were Jose Castro and Damasa Morejon. My father was raised by my grandmother Amalia Menendez as a single mother. Ricardo Valladares, my grandfather, was never involved in our lives. 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.