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:

Ileana (MINICO) Ortega Menendez

General Information
Current Name
Ileana Arriola (Minico)
Current Location
United States of America
Name on Arrival
Ileana (MINICO) Ortega Menendez
Age on Arrival
Date of Arrival
Sunday, June 3, 1962
Relocated To
CWB Fla. City
Stayed With
Rev Cornelius Stefani, St John's Academy, Colfax, Wa

Ileana (MINICO)'s Story


I came when I was 12 yrs old. I remember that Mima before us leaving Guir...

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Hi Ileana espero conocerla en persona en la proxima reunion de los Pedro Pan en Nov, hasta entonces.

Message by Henry/Enrique Rodriguez (EL MUSICO) | May 28th 2009

Minico: It's my pleasure to help out. When you say "nothing happens" with your story, what do you mean? Are you editing it and you're not seeing any changes? It looks to me like your story was last updated early this morning.

Message by Pedro Pan Administrator | May 21st 2009

Hi Minico! Thanks for your questions. Let me see if I can answer them. 1) "I loved this story" only appears when you are signed on. 2) We're working on the double names, but our highest priority is to put missing people in to the database. Once we're done with that, we'll start taking out duplicates. 3) When someone leaves a comment but isn't registered, you go to their e-mail because they don't have a profile yet. You only go to a profile page when they're registered. We'll work on making the distinction clearer on the comments page. Does this help? Thanks again for your interest!

Message by Pedro Pan Administrator | May 21st 2009

Hi Minico, Thanks for organizing the reunion on May 3. My wife and I had a great time. I read your story. One of these days I will put my own story. Jose

Message by Jose Kou | May 20th 2009

Ileana: Gracias por su mensaje. Lei y su historia y su experiencia en el "laundry room", resulta simpatico para los que no tuvimos que pasar por eso. Es interesante como recordamos lo bueno y lo malo. Un saludo afectuoso

Message by jorge Viera | May 20th 2009

Fermina; You don't know me but Estercita, Isabelita, Luisy and Emilito were my next door neighbors in Central Tuinucu, Cuba. Did you meet them here? I would love to reconnect with them. I saw them once in Miami at a mutual friends' when we were in high School but never reconnected again. I've left messages for all four of them but if you should hear from them, please let them know I contacted you and I'd really like to get in touch.

Message by Maria Petronila Hernandez Mills | May 18th 2009

Ileana: Que bueno que hablamos. Ya pronto nos reunimos para conocernos en persona. Yo pienso ir a la reunion de los Pedro Panes de Miami que es en Noviembre. No te me pierdas.

Message by Gloria | May 17th 2009

Thank you for your message...Don't know about you, but I remember in such a short time there so many things....from our trip to the 7/11 for stamps and making our phone calls to the school the dances and parties in matecumbe and kendall......this in an amazing experience to be able to share our thoughts memories and experiences...wishing you the best in everything that your have accomplished and will continue to...and yes we have been Blessed ten fold.....and so has my mom with all her little Blessings.....your new friend....Nina

Message by Maria C (Nina) Ramirez Gutierrez | May 17th 2009

HI. My name is Delia Rosa Shoffner (Hidalgo) I was 5 or 6 when I lived at the campamento. This is awful but I think I lived with a couple (older), the man used to rub up against the girls, I remember the older girls telling us little ones to "put your backs against the wall he's coming" I thank all the older girls for watching out for us. I too have good memories and bad memories, I remember getting beaten up by two girls (Mimi and Davy), Davy was a "little person". They usually beat me up in the school bus. The nuns just stood by and did nothing, I remember them being on the bus when we would get dropped off at school and picked up. I remember taking trips to Key West on the bus, (one time one of the older girls almost drowned) she had been in the water with her boyfriend. I remember going to Matheson Hammock park as well. Those were wonderful memories and also going to Crandon Park where we would catch seahorses in the water. Wonderful days that made up for the bad.

Message by Delia Rosa Shoffner Hidalgo | May 17th 2009

Fermina: Realize that in 1962 society's mores were different than now. More restrictive- in a sense and less scientific. Knowledge does not stand still for if it did 'we all be dead by now.' 47 years is a long time for my poor old brain cells to activate but nevertheless cheers to you for making the outreach. Manuel

Message by Manuel E Gutierrez Arnao | May 17th 2009

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