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:

The Stories

Read the story of Pedro Pan in the words of those who lived it.

Most recent stories (page 1)

By Ricardo Gonzalez Arias
Sun 8pm
1 person loved this story.

Lived in Guanabo where I spent a lot of time rebel rausing with my horse and at the beach with my friends. Both of my parents did jail time thanks to Fidel. My dad in Isla de Pinos and my mom in Guanajay. Went to "Newton" school till I left for Miami on March 12, 1962. I didn't see my parents again until August of 1978. I was in a foster home in Morristown New Jersey for a couple of years and went to live with my uncle, aunt and cousins in Miami later. We all got "relocated" to Portland ... (read the rest of this story)

By Gema C. Hernandez
Sat 10pm

I am the first Hispanic female to serve in the capacity of Secretary of in the State of Florida. This is not the first, nor the only time I have been the first female, and definitely the first Hispanic female, to accomplish certain goals or to break the gender and ethnic barriers.

I came from Cuba in 1961 as part of what we know now as Operation Peter Pan. I was one of 14,000 children whose parents were left behind in Cuba. In my case, I was reunited with my parents six years later in 1967 when President Lyndon ... (read the rest of this story)

By Eloísa Echazábal
Fri 6am
33 people loved this story.

My story is unique, as is each one of the over 14,000 Pedro Pan stories. Some are happier; some are sadder. I believe the decision to send my sister and me alone to the United States was made by my parents the moment they found out that the government was taking over the private and religious schools in Cuba. I remember vividly the day our school, Colegio Verbo Encarnado in Ampliación de Almendares, was taken over by the government. I was attending class in a cottage in the patio which the nuns used as an additional classroom,and all of a ... (read the rest of this story)

By Raisa B Godin Rodriguez
Jul 21st 2014
1 person loved this story.

I came from La Vibora, reparto El Sevillano, on July 22, 1962. 'La pecera' was one of the unforgettable moments in my life as was watching my mom hug in tears the father of 2 young sisters (ages 8 and 7) who also came on the plane with us. I positioned my body so my sister (age 11 then) and the younger girls could not see that image, but it has forever been embedded in my mind as the ultimate sacrifice parents make for what they hope will be the well being of their children.

We lived in the Florida ... (read the rest of this story)

By Rene Luis Lopez-Guerrero Meruelo
Jul 9th 2014
6 people loved this story.

I arrived in a Pan American flight by myself on February 8, 1961. I was told by my parents that I was supposed to speak to nobody, but that, only if asked, I would respond by saying that I was traveling to go to school outside of Cuba. Shortly before the plane took off, the stewardess approached me very politely and told me, with a very beautiful and reassuring smile, that she knew who I was and that she would watch over me until I reached my destination. I don't remember the exact words but I do remember that she ... (read the rest of this story)

By Jose D Pimienta
Jul 6th 2014
3 people loved this story.

I lived in Santa Clara with my Mami y Papi.

Papi had been a farmer until the age of 20. He and his younger brother got tired of working their butts off and not making any money. They started selling yardage on horseback to the farmers in their small farms. They opened small stores in small towns like Manicaragua. Later my father opened a store in Santa Clara.

They made good money and our family made good progress financially.

I went to the Maristas School Sta. Clara, from 1st to 6th grade. Had great experiences there ... (read the rest of this story)

By Antonio Miyar Rodriguez
Jun 24th 2014
1 person loved this story.

I was born November 3, 1961 and arrived November 20th, 1961. I was only 17 days old. Wonder if I am the youngest of all?