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:

Jose Arango Buzainz

Jose's Story

It was an unusually cold late October evening 1961, at Miami airport when I arrived here alone on a KLM flight at the age of 8 from Havana. I was really 10 but my parents were told that I may be too...

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Jose has uploaded new photos.

Status update | Sep 17th 2010

Jose, my dream for Cuba is that it becomes a free and prosperous country one day. I wish for my people to live in freedom more than anything else and I know that my dream will become true one day. As we say in Spanish: No hay mal que dure 100 anos..... Come to one of our activities, I am sure you will feel at home with us. Love

Message by Carmencita Romanach | Sep 4th 2010

Hi Jose, I am not an expert, just a regular pedropan that is passionate about our story.....and no, I don't think we need to be aggressive in pursuing our fellow pedropans brothers/sisters.....but I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. First, it is a miracle that we have over 1400 pedropans registered in this has been a pleasant surprise for everybody involved in this project. Second, there is a great amount of pedropans that are not aware they were part of this Operation Pedro Pan ( I myself found this out by coincidence in 2005). Third, remember we are mostly in our 60s and not everybody that age knows how to use a computer or has one. Fourth, there is an indefinite number of pedropans that are deceased already ( yes, we are in that age when we have to start thinking about our own mortality). Fifth, we pedropans were sent to 35 different states, and later on got on with our lives in different countries (not everybody has found out about the website). And last, but not least, this was a very traumatic experience for all, and even though most of us, have been able to come to terms with it, there are some that might not have been able to process their feelings associated with our exodus. We need to be aware and respectful of them, and only open our arms to receive them as brothers and sisters that we are. My experience has been that when we start interacting with other pedropans we feel an instant bond with each other, but then again, every person is unique and needs their space. However, if you want to participate and help in our activities, you are more than welcome.....Love,

Message by Carmencita Romanach | Sep 3rd 2010

Jose, that is a cute picture you posted! Thank you for sharing. I loved your story about Halloween, that was so different for all of us....Also about the children crying, we all remember that. I was 15 years old but I remember the younger girls crying and me holding back the tears because I was older and needed to be strong. Those nuns were fantastic conforting us, I interviewed madre Paulina and she said that was very difficult for them too and that is something they will never forget. Love

Message by Carmencita Romanach | Sep 2nd 2010

Jose has uploaded new photos.

Status update | Sep 2nd 2010

I enjoyed reading your story. I am glad you enjoyed mine. In response to your questions: I lived in Miami until 1965 when we moved to Hialeah. I went on to study at Miami-Dade College, Florida International University and Barry University. I spent most of my career in the accounting and computer field. And yes, it is hard to believe that I am the age that I am. LOL

Message by Carlos A Cruz Martinez | Aug 18th 2010

Jose has updated their profile.

Status update | Jun 20th 2010

Jose, you arrived just 11 days after me and you flew KLM, and I Pan Am. Those were the two airlines that were doing those flights at the time. I also remember my first Halloween, just 22 days after my arrival. An older 2nd cousin took my brother and I trick-or-treating around her neighborhood and that of her friends. Thinking back on that day, I should consider myself very lucky that while I was doing this in reasonable weather with a cousin, there were other kids like yourself doing it in a cold place without relatives. I am sorry about this, but perhaps such an experience has made you a stronger person. If things went reasonable well in later years, one should not look back as to what might have been, as it could have been worse instead of better. I too remember the "carne del refugio" which was basically U.S. Government issued generic SPAM. The cheese was pretty good as well as the navy beans. It was not close at all to gourmet, but we ate and thus I am very grateful. Good luck to you. Carlos

Message by Carlos A Cruz Martinez | Jun 17th 2010

Jose says: If there are supposed to be 14,00 Pedero Pans. where in the world are the other 12,000?

Status update | Apr 7th 2010

Hey big brother ! Just read your story for the first time and i can not imageine what you went through nor do i wish to live it but you have grown up to become a good and loving person.Your loving little brother WILLIAM ARANGO!

Message by William Arango | Mar 30th 2010

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