A 1964 Cuba passport. A pair of shoes a woman wore when she arrived at the Freedom Tower for processing fresh from her 1966 Freedom Flight from Cuba. An original ration card given to refugees at the tower so they could receive their government surplus food: processed meat, cheese, powdered milk and can of peanut butter.
These are among the items so far donated following our article last weekend requesting memorabilia to display at the Freedom Tower’s The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom exhibit, which will honor the tower’s years as a refugee processing center, known as El Refugio.
The exhibit, sponsored by Miami Dade College and the Miami Herald Media Co., is a pictorial and memorabilia account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro’s 1959 rise to power, and the successes exiles have achieved in the United States. It will open to the public in September.
On Saturday, between noon and 4 p.m., the tower at 600 Biscayne Blvd. will open its doors to the public to accept more mementos from Cubans who were processed there between 1962 and 1974. The items can be loaned or donated.
The exhibition, overseen by Jeremy Mikolajczak, the tower’s executive director and chief curator, will be part of a permanent collection at the national landmark building.
The tower is significant because it represents the important story of the Cuban exodus to America and resettlement during the Cold War. It is also referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South,” Mikolajczak said. Built in 1926, the tower was the original home of the Miami Daily News.
Once the exhibit opens on the second-floor of the tower, it will be divided into two areas: A permanent display will showcase the Freedom Tower’s role as a processing center. The second hall will showcase Cuban exoduses, starting with Operation Pedro Pan, which took place between 1960 and 1962 and brought more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami. Many of the children later received medical care and other services at the tower once they reunited with their parents in Miami.
The tower is seeking donations such as photos, trinkets, official paperwork, passports, immunization cards, toys, and clothing worn during the trip to the U.S.
Helping launch the exhibits are Pedro Pan veterans, along with the Operation Pedro Pan Group Inc. organization, Barry University Archives and Special Collections, the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection and the Florida International University Library.
Parking will be available next to the tower for those attending.