Pedro Pan Stories

My Story

by Guillermo Ricardo Paz Vazquez
1950-2012

The year was 1958, I was 8 years old and my life from my perspective was good. I had two wonderful parents and a loving sister who was 2 years older than I. My father was a self-made man who arrived in Cuba at the age of 14 from Spain and after many years of sacrifices and hard work became the owner of two jewelry stores located in Havana. He was a very decent and proper Spaniard who taught by example. My mother, who was also raised in Spain, was a very loving and caring mother. She carried an aura of optimism that would radiate and when she smiled the whole room would light up. She was pure sunshine. Her whole world revolved around my sister and me. She always made sure that all of our needs were met. My typical days consisted in getting up in the morning and after having my usual café con leche and Cuban toast I would wait for the school bus in my front porch. The bus would take me to “Las Escuelas Pias de la Vibora,” the school that I attended since the first grade. After school I would do my homework, and then it was playtime or “mataperrear” on the streets! On my block I had a lot of friends: Jose Manuel (Tito), Emilito, Paco, Albertico, and Julito. We would play baseball on the streets, make club houses from scrap wood, make and fly our own kites, ride bicycle, have soda cap wars, an occasional fist fight with some guys we called “las ratas” (the rats) down the street, go lizard hunting with our pellet rifles, play marbles, top spinning, making carriolas with old skates, gamble with baseball cards, exchange comic books and the usual hide and seek at night. I could stay out and play until I heard “el cañonazo de las nueve”, which was a canon fired from el Morro at 9:00 p.m., I could stay out that late as long as I kept my end of the deal of not letting my grades fall, which I never did. I always carried a nickel in my pocket for an occasional “Ironbeer,” Coke and/or a slice of mortadella from the corner bodega. Almost every weekend and specially during the summer months I would spend my time at the Club Bancario located in Santa Maria del Mar, a breathtaking beach with beautiful fine white sand and clear turquoise blue waters located about 12 miles east of Havana along the Via Blanca highway. My prized possessions included my Niagara bicycle, my pellet rifle, my marble collection, my Union #5 roller skates, my collection of comic books, and my collection of baseball cards. As I stated before life was good!

1959 started with a lot of fanfare. When Fidel with his barbudos entered Havana I found it fascinating at the beginning. They would show me their weapons and would give me bullets as souvenirs. It was like living in a real adventure movie much like the TV shows that I loved to watch such as The Lone Ranger, Rin Tin Tin, El Zorro, Westerns, and World War II movies. The fanfare was short-lived. Soon my favorite TV programs were been replaced by public trials resembling the Roman Coliseum with spectators chanting “Paredon” (to the wall) followed by executions by firing squads. I heard of mobs sacking houses of Batista sympathizers. Envy seemed to be running wild in the streets and anyone could label you a Batista sympathizer. Even though my family was not involved in anything that had to do with politics, for the first time in my life I began to sense and feel fear. I remember my father telling me that I should not repeat anything that I heard in our house to anyone and if someone asked me “whom do you belong to, Batista or Fidel?” my answer should be “I belong to my Father and Mother”. Shortly afterwards the “Comité de Defensa” (Defense Committee) was established in the next block from my house by the most envious undesirable individuals of the neighborhood. One day a member of the “Comité” asked the question that my father had prepared me for and I carefully answered my canned response while my sister, my self-appointed defender, simply told him to go to hell and to stop bothering us. On another occasion another member of the same committee was posting signs stating “Fidel Esta Es Tu Casa” (Fidel This is Your House) all along a masonry wall that fenced our corner house while my sister was carefully removing them and tearing them up behind her. When confronted, my sister told her, “You are posting the signs on the wrong house; this is not Fidel’s house. I know because I live here!” I am pretty sure that we were labeled “Los Gusanos” (the worms) of the neighborhood after that.

As time went on, I began to realize that I was witnessing the beginning of the end of an era similar to watching a video of a flower wilting in fast forward. I still had my nickel in my pocket but there was no Ironbeer, Coke or mortadella to buy at the bodega and Chiclets were nowhere to be found. People standing in line to buy groceries became a common sight. Even in Varadero you couldn’t get mermelada de guayaba con queso crema, which was my favorite. My father, who used to sit on the front porch after work reading the newspaper, was now in his bedroom listening to “La Voz de Las Americas” behind closed doors on a short-wave radio in an obvious effort of obtaining unbiased information. The squelching sound emitted from the radio as he tuned-in the station is unforgettable. One night, I entered his room as he was listening to the radio; he sat me down, turned off the radio and calmly proceeded to explain the theory of communism and its ramifications. I was also told not to worry since the Americans would never allow communism within 90 miles from their shores and that it was all a matter of time before all of this madness would end but that I would be traveling “al norte” (north) in the near future on a temporary basis until the dust settled.

One night while I was playing hide and seek, a half a block away from where I was, someone had placed on the door of the “Comité de Defensa” some anti-Fidel propaganda. The “miliciano”(militia) who was in charge of defending his post upon seeing the sign ran to the middle of the street with his rifle to see if he could find the guilty party, and who does he see running in the street? Me! He then yells, “Halt!” Now mind you that I did hear the command to halt but I had been hiding in a bush in front of a house where a very cute girl lived and I thought that it was the girl’s father yelling so I ran even faster towards the “base,” which was this huge old tree by the corner bodega. As I am running towards the base, the miliciano raises his rifle, has me on his sights, and as he squeezes the trigger, I trip on the tree’s roots and fall. By an act of God the bullet flies over my head and strikes the tree. My father, who had been sitting in our front porch, witnessed the whole event except for the fact that he thought that I had been killed. He ran towards the miliciano, disarmed him and threw him to the ground ready to kill him screaming, “He is just a boy” over and over and over. After seeing that I was unharmed, he stopped the physical attack on the miliciano but continued with the longest verbal attack that I have ever witnessed. This was the last night that I was allowed to play on the street. The streets, the playground that had been so dear to me, were no longer safe.

I guess that my father knew more than he was letting me know, for he decided that we were going to take a trip from “El Cabo de San Antonio to La Punta de Maisí;” in other words he wanted me to see all of Cuba before I left, and I did.

All Cubans know that October 10th also known as “El Grito de Yara” signifies the day when sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers proclaimed Cuba’s independence from Spain. To me, it signifies a lot more, for it is also the day of my independence from communism. It is the day that I left Cuba. On the morning of Tuesday October 10th, 1961 I took a very slow deliberate walk around my house and the neighborhood, paying full attention to every detail with the full knowledge that I wouldn’t be there the next day, but little did I know that it would be my last. Back in my room, my mother had been putting the finishing touches packing my luggage, which she had been working on for the last 3 days. As I entered the room she asked me if I wanted to put anything else into the luggage. I figured that I was leaving on a temporary basis so I said no. She then handed me a drawstring bag she had made from an old curtain remnants containing my marble collection and said that she would like for me to take it along. When I asked why, she said, with a half smile, that it would be a good idea. I placed the bag inside my luggage and closed it.

Neatly placed on top of my bed was a new dark blue suit that my mother had bought for the trip. After dressing I looked in the mirror and the reflection that came back was that of a full-grown man like my father. At the time I did not understand that at that moment my childhood had ended and that the reflection was of what I had become. Before leaving the house, my father quizzed me on my home address and on all the phone numbers that I should remember. To this day, these numbers are still engraved in my mind.

The trip to the airport was non eventful mixed with an occasional “mira la vaquita” (look at the cow) bit. Obviously my parents and my sister were trying to mask their feelings by casting a positive tone on the situation. I had mixed fillings. On the one hand I was going to the good old USA on a temporary basis, I was going on my first plane ride, and I was ridding myself of all the oppression that existed in Cuba. I was going towards freedom! On the other hand, I was leaving behind my family and everything that I knew towards an unknown.

Once at the airport I was familiar with the routine since we had previously accompanied a neighbor who had departed to Miami about a month before. Since we had arrived early, to kill time, my mother took me to the gift shop and bought me some maracas, one with HABANA and the other with CUBA engraved on it. At some point I was told that it was time to enter the glass enclosed gate waiting room also known as “la pecera” (the fishbowl). I knew that this was the point of no return. So with my best stiff upper lip I hugged and kissed my parents and sister goodbye but also made sure that I was the last one to enter. Once inside I could see my parents and sister through the glass but could no longer talk to them or touch them. Now I knew why it was called the fishbowl. You felt like a silly goldfish! The fishbowl had a Machiavellian physiological effect. You were still in Cuban territory so you were at their mercy while your parents watched but could not defend you. It was the communist’s last insult. As I heard the order to board the plane, my eyesight locked-in on my family who were standing on the other side of the glass doing their best to look cheerful. They hand signaled that they were going to the second floor balcony. I nodded my head, blew them a kiss and entered a room where they opened and inspected my luggage. They didn’t find anything that they wanted to confiscate, which could have been just about anything, so I was released to proceed down the tarmac towards the plane. On my way there I looked back up at the balcony and saw a multitude of people waving white handkerchiefs. I couldn’t point out my family but I knew they were there, so for their sake I smiled and waved back as if I had seen them. Once on the plane, I was lucky to get a window seat. I instantly glued my face to the window to see if I could see them, but my view was away from the terminal. After what seemed like an eternity, the plane started to taxi towards the runway. On its way there I could see the terminal again this time at a much greater distance but you could still detect all those white handkerchiefs waving good-bye in the distance, and I knew that at least one was for me.

After the plane took-off I kept looking out the window attempting to memorize all the splendor of the Cuban landscape but as we approached the coastline an eerie feeling came over me. I was not sure if I would ever see Cuba again or when I would see my family. The only thing I was sure of was that I was on my own. I was still bouncing those thoughts around in my mind when I heard the announcement that we would be landing in MIA and to please fasten your seatbelts. As I walked down the staircase from the airplane the eerie feeling changed to a sense of accomplishment and relief for I was finally in the USA and free from all of the communist oppression. I took a long deep breath, savoring my freedom, and proceeded towards the terminal. There, someone led me to a small sterile room containing some chairs, a desk, and an American flag on a pole standing by the corner. Hanging on the wall behind the desk was a large framed picture of President Kennedy. Alone in the room I kept looking at the flag noticing that both the Cuban and the American flags were red, white and blue. The Cuban represented my homeland but this one symbolized my freedom. I was still admiring that beautiful flag when a black man entered the room and said something to me in English. I responded, “me no spic ingli”. After he realized that I had no idea of what he was saying, he smiled, gave me a pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum; then left the room. The next person to enter was a friend of my family, Serafin, whom I immediately recognized. After some small talk, he explained that my family had made arrangements for him to pick me up at the airport and to take me to a camp called Kendall. The word camp sounded great, so I said, “fine, let’s go.”

I left with him to claim my luggage and proceeded towards his car. The poor guy was driving a 1952 Chevrolet that looked like a reject from a demolition derby. On our way there, he kept apologizing for the car saying things like “I know that it looks like a rust bucket but it sure has a good engine”. When I inquired why he had so many gallons of water in the back seat, he told me that they were there for when the engine overheated. I nodded while thinking; I thought he said that it had a good engine! I was beginning to understand what life as an exile would be like. Out the window, everywhere I looked, I would see gravel and lime rock with overgrown bushes. I kept wondering, “How on earth do they grow anything around here with no topsoil? Where are the tall buildings? Why don’t the streets have curbs? Where are those beautiful scenic views of the countryside that I had seen in books? Is this all there is? Noooooo, this had better not be all there is to the USA.” Well, I didn’t say anything but I was sure thinking it! After traveling for a while on a solitary road leading to the middle of nowhere and just as I was convinced that Serafin was lost, we finally arrived at the Kendall camp.

Within the camp stood this elongated one-story building resembling an army barrack with the entrance on one end. We entered the building and went into an office where some paperwork got done. After the formality of the paper work, Serafín left. Someone gave me a tour of the premises and showed me my bunk and locker location. I started unpacking when suddenly I remembered that I had seen a Coke machine by the entrance. I hadn’t had a Coke in years so I threw all my belongings into the locker, closed it and went back to the machine. As I stood there, with anticipation in front of that machine, I reached into my pocket, where I always carried my nickel, took it out and as I was going to place it into the slot I realized that the price for my elusive Coke was ten cents. I stood there in disbelief, holding my buffalo nickel in my hand, frozen in time. I kept thinking, “This is not happening. It can’t be. For heaven’s sake it is made here! If anything it should be cheaper!” I must have looked pretty pitiful standing in front of that old machine holding my nickel because someone tapped me on the shoulder and said; “Coje, asere” (here you go buddy) and gave me a dime. After all those years, I was finally having a nice cold Coke. Wow what a treat! The day turned into night, and I was felling kind of tired due to the adrenaline rush from the day’s
events. As I laid there on my bunk looking up at the underside of the bunk above me, analyzing my predicament, I could hear the younger kids crying in the darkness. It was very sad but I knew that I could not give myself that luxury, if I was to survive, so I fought back my feelings and went to sleep.

As the time passed I began to settle in and actually enjoyed my time there. Everyone who worked there went out of their way to help us in any way they could. They would take us to this huge pool located in the Matacumbe camp, where we would swim. I learned how to play a game, which seemed really weird at the time, where you got into a fistfight while you held a pointed ball under your arm. I later found out that it was called football. Then I started to hear rumors that they were planning to send some of the kids up north to orphanages and foster homes. Now, that did not sit well with me, since from my point of view I was already up north. How much further up north are we talking about now? I seem to recall places like Illinois, Nebraska, Montana and Indiana. In addition I previously did not have a problem with the word camp but the words orphanages and foster homes had a negative connotation with me. Now what? Well what I needed was time so on every occasion that I got called in to the office to tell me that they had a “beca” (scholarship) for me, I would tell them that I had just received a letter from my parents telling me that they were going to be arriving any day now. This bought me some time, but after a while my credibility was running thin and I felt like Maxwell Smart with his ‘Well, would you believe’ routine so I wrote a letter to my parents to see if they could come up with plan “B”. My parents, who had never failed me, came up with a plan. I moved in with my godparents living in Hialeah.

My stay there was bitter sweet. I had managed to stay in Miami but I was in no way in a place that I could call home. I didn’t even feel comfortable opening the refrigerator door. I learned to ignore the negative, to concentrate on the positive and to continue on the path that my parents had taught me to follow. During my stay there I attended Saint John the Apostle Catholic School, paid from the money that my parents would send from Cuba.

The 4th of July is USA’s day of independence and it is also mine because on that glorious day in the year 1963 my mother and my sister arrived in Miami from Cuba via Mexico. We moved into this small apartment in the N.W. section of Miami known as Wynwood. One of the first things that I did as I entered the apartment was to open the refrigerator door and stand in front of it smiling. When my mother asked me what I was doing, I said, “Nothing” and then I hugged her. I was finally home. In 1965, two years later my father arrived penniless after the government confiscated his businesses. I later learned through my father that my mother cried herself to sleep every night during my absence.

Since then I have lived and made Miami my hometown. After St. Johns, I graduated from Robert E. Lee Jr. High, Miami Jackson High School and the University of Miami.

My father, mother and sister have all since passed away and are buried side by side here in Miami. I left them behind when I left Cuba and now they have all departed and left me behind, but I know that someday we will be reunited again.

I am now married to another Pedro Panner who is the mother of two wonderful sons and the grandmother of three beautiful grandchildren. We are both registered architects practicing in Miami. I will always be eternally grateful for and to my parents, the USA, the Catholic Church and to all the people that God has sent to help me through this winding road we call life. It is sad to see how our beloved Cuba has become an impoverished third world country with no resemblance to the prosperous society of my black and white memories that I hold so dear. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like in Cuba.

Now when a client wants me to design a temporary structure, I make sure that it can withstand the test of time. What is my definition of temporary? Well so far it is 50 years but I am still counting. One final note; I have been able to hold on to my maracas, I haven’t lost my marbles and that buffalo nickel-- I still have it!

A Brief and Personal History of 100 Years of Cuban History

by Carlos Eire
July 26, 2013

Today is the 60th anniversary of one of the most unfortunate events in Cuban history. Sixty years ago today, Fidel and Raul Castro attacked some army barracks and could have been killed, had they fought as bravely as their companions. But they were cowards and survived. Dark, dark day.

Instead of dwelling on what happened that day, let's take a longer and deeper look at its historical context. And let's make it personal.

One hundred years ago Cuba was a prosperous island that attracted European immigrants at a rate much higher than that of the United States. It had problems, yes. Every country on the map had problems then. Some of those problems would soon enough be called "The Great War" or "World War I"... But Cuba was prosperous. Just look at the train station above.

Or look at the Centro Gallego, below, which was under construction in 1913 and opened in 1915. Built by immigrants. And there was fierce competition among immigrant groups: who would build the most spectacular palace for the arts? Runners up: el Centro Asturiano, and el Centro Vasco. Can't show you those images, you might disagree with my ranking. Google them, if you are curious.

Cuba was politically unstable. But that instability did little to stem the prosperity. Despite the fast revolving door at the presidential palace, the corruption, the occasional dictator, and the fallout from the Great Depression, things moved forward, and the immigrants kept pouring in. Yes, there were rabble-rousers, and some were members of a very feeble and ridiculous communist party, but no one paid much attention to them.

Hardly anyone ever left the island, except to see the world and come back full of stories and photos. Or to return to the old country, weighed down with cash, to build a grand house and prove to everyone back home that life in the New World was good indeed. And there were more Americans living in Cuba than Cubans in the United States.

Speed up the history....

Sixty years ago today the Castro brothers, illegitimate sons of a Gallego immigrant father and a Jewish immigrant mother, botched their attack the Moncada Barracks, causing the deaths of many Cubans -- including nearly everyone in their raiding party -- and the two cretins ended up in prison. Because he was married to a high society girl with connections to Fulgencio Batista, the president he wanted to overthrow, Fidel and his slimy little communist-party-member brother were quickly released from their very cushy prison cells -- where Fidel even managed to begin an extramarital affair with another society girl -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Three years later, after begging for money from exiles in the United States and living off the work or the fortunes of others, Fidel, Raul, an Argentine scumbag they called "Che" and a handful of fellow "revolutionaries" landed in eastern Cuba in a boat named Granma, and, once again, Fidel and Raul managed to get nearly everyone in the expedition killed. The brothers and the Argentine survived, mostly by avoiding all confrontations with their enemies and letting everyone else do the fighting. They headed for the mountains, met up later with a New York Times reporter named Herbert Matthews and managed to draw all attention to themselves and their 26th of July Movement, even though there were many other "revolutionaries" fighting against Batista, much more effectively, with much nobler goals.

Although they accomplished very little up in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, other than to grow beards, kill peasants, and attract the attention of foreign journalists, Fidel and his 26th of July Movement managed to take over the nation of Cuba, eliminate all other "revolutionaries" who disagreed with them or stood in their way, and to set up a monarchy ostensibly committed to Marxist-Leninist principles, but really committed to another goal: that of enslaving every Cuban, making them all equally poor, and turning a once prosperous nation into one of the most backward and repressive hell-holes on earth.

Oh, yeah... almost forgot. They killed tens of thousands of their own countrymen, imprisoned and tortured hundreds of thousands, exiled two million, broke apart at least three out of every four families, and ruined agriculture in an island with some of the most fertile soil on earth. Well, wait a minute. The Castro brothers didn't do all this by themselves. No. There were plenty of unprincipled Cubans -- many driven by envy or the sheer love of power -- who did all the dirty work.

Personalize that history, please. Yes, please.

Here is my father's family a hundred years ago, in 1913. Immigrants, and immigrant progeny.

My grandfather (seated, left, in white suit) would die in 1927, after he got a paper cut on his tongue while licking an envelope. Infection. No antibiotics in 1927. But he died in a prosperous Cuba. All the adults in this photo died in a prosperous Cuba too, before 1959. Everyone else in this photograph died poor and in exile, save for my father, the boy seated on the floor in his sailor suit. He would die alone, in the house that was no longer his, in 1976, while waiting for his turn to leave the island, so he could join his wife and two sons in exile. The teenager in the white suit with the pince-nez glasses, my uncle Rafael, would be imprisoned and tortured by the Castro regime. His son, Fernando, who would be born twenty years after this photograph was taken, would be imprisoned for over twenty years by the Castro regime, and endure all sorts of torture.

Here is the happy dysfunctional family my father, now no longer dressed in sailor suits, ended up having in 1953, just about the same time as Fidel and Raul were attacking the Moncada Barracks.

Here are his two sons, on the fender of his car, in 1953.

Here are his two sons, arriving as orphans in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1963, where they would live with his brother, their uncle Amado, that awkward-looking teenage boy in the dark suit in the photograph from 1913. They are very happy because they have just been freed from a foster home in Miami run by abusive adults and full of equally abusive juvenile delinquents.

Here are his wife and his two sons, in Chicago, in 1967, waiting for him to leave Cuba. His wife has just found a minimum-wage job at a factory, assembling photocopy machines. She spent three and a half years trying to get out of Cuba to join the two boys in exile, was sent to Chicago by the Cuban Refugee Center in Miami, and could not find any work for a very long time. The older and now shorter son is a full-time printer who has quit high school. The geeky and now taller younger son is a full-time dishwasher who can't quit high school because he is too young to do so legally.

Flash forward to 2013. Sorry, no family pictures. There is no family. Gone. Everyone is dead or scattered all over the map. The family ceased to exist in 1960, or thereabouts. And no one has ever been able to go to anyone else's funeral.

Thank you Fidel, thank you Raul.... Here is the only photo that can round out this hundred-year history. The event was carefully staged for the New York Times a few days ago, as an unintentional memorial to the great Herbert Matthews. This is Cuba in 2013. And this photograph -- and its NYT caption -- are the ultimate and most fitting tribute to the attack on the Moncada Barracks on the 26th of July, 1953.

Source: Babalú Blog, July 26, 2013, at 8:31 am

My visit with my Foster Parents

by Ricardo J. Cata

Baldwin High School Nexus- June 2013

On October 12, 2012, I visited with my foster parents, Vinnie and Jeanne (Graven) Barbato '42 of Baldwin. My brother Jose and I arrived at the Barbato household on November 14, 1962, a very cold day 50 years ago. They still live today in the same house as in 1962. I was 15 and Jose was 16 at the time. We were refugees from the Castro regime in Cuba. Our parents sent us to the United States alone to get us out, and to give us a future and a hope. Our parents, Manuel and Maria, and my sister Maria who was 13 at the time, came to the U.S. in June 1963. My mother, brother and I then set up our new home in North Grand Avenue, with the help, support and guidance of Vinnie and Jeanne.

My brother and I arrived in Miami on August 12, 1962 as part of the "Pedro Pan" program (see: www.pedropan.org), which was a program created in 1960 by the Catholic Welfare Bureau in conjunction with the United States State Department. About 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children (boys and girls) below the age of 18 years came out of Cuba through this program between 1960 and 1962. My brother and I stayed in Army tents at Camp Matecumbe in Southwest Miami-Dade County with about 400 other boys for 3 months, until the time we were sent to the Barbato home.

My brother and I were blessed to come into the Barbato household. Vinnie and Jeanne, and their twin boys, Steve and Stanley, were wonderful, caring and loving to my brother and me. I have told Vinnie and Jeannemany times since then how blessed I feel, because I had two sets of parents, my natural parents, and Vinnie and Jeanne.

It was a sweet visit with Vinnie and Jeanne this past October, talking about memories from 40 to 50 years ago. We went to mass at St. Christopher's' Saturday morning, and then for breakfast at the Coach Dinner. I left from there to the airport. It seems incredible that 50 years have gone by since that November day in 1962. I recall that when we went to register at BHS, they had to call the Spanish teacher down to administration (a German
fellow), because no one else spoke Spanish.

I left Baldwin in 1975, after 2 years in the Army, and graduating from College and St. John's Law School. Vinnie and Jeanne were great mentors for me and played no small part in keeping me from dropping out of law school during my first year. I have lived, and practiced law, in the South Florida area since 1975. My wife Ani has visited Vinnie and Jeanne on two occasions. With the perspective of the years and having a family and grandchildren, I have come to fully appreciate the enormous sacrifice my parents made back in August 1962 to give my brother and me the guarantee of freedom. I bless their memory.

I also salute, hug, kiss and bless Vinnie and Jeanne for their great act of love and compassion, initially with my brother and me, and later on also with my mother and sister. Well done good and faithful servants!

MATECUMBE

By JUAN PUJOL

El sábado 8 de Junio estuvimos reunidos en Camp Matecumbe para celebrar el 50 aniversario de la graduación de la única clase de “seniors” de Matecumbe High. El calor y la humedad imperante no se podían comparar con el calor humano en los abrazos y saludos de todos los que allí estábamos celebrando con ellos.

Como siempre que nos vemos en ocasiones como esta, tal parecía que nos habíamos visto recientemente, que nunca nos habíamos separado, aunque en muchos casos no nos habíamos visto más desde que nos despedimos al irnos del Campamento.

Matecumbe es un lugar muy especial que a veces es difícil de explicar, yo viví allí casi un año de los tres que estuve en el programa. Viví en tres campamentos; pero ningún otro dejó en mi las huellas que dejó Matecumbe.

No negaré que sufrí conociéndote aquel día...” como diría el poema sobre Matecumbe en el ultimo numero de Forja. (Publicación mensual de Octubre del 62 hasta Mayo/ Junio del 64).

Llegué una noche de agosto en medio de una tormenta tropical y al acostarme en la litera que me asignaron, sin sábana o almohada, me quedé dormido sintiendo las gotas de la lluvia cayendo en el techo de la carpa que me cubría, pero muy contento y agradeciendo a Dios el llegar a tierras de libertad.

Al otro día tuvimos un día bello y los rayos de sol se filtraban entre los muchos pinos que nos rodeaban, lo vi como una señal que mi pesadilla vivida en mi Patria en el último año, quedaba atrás como la tormenta de la noche anterior y mi vida comenzaba una nueva etapa llena de esperanza.

Después de vivir allí, yo estuve listo para todo lo que enfrenté más adelante, tal vez fue por aquello que oía de “me roza, me patina, me resbala y me pasa por el lado y ni me echa fresco” o los ratos que, solo con los pinos y los montes me ponía a hablar con Dios o el compartir con aquellos que tenían los mismos valores que yo y veíamos el tiempo en el Campamento como estar en una fragua forjándonos para el futuro.

Todos nosotros tenemos la responsabilidad de proclamar nuestra saga, de contar nuestra historia personal, de que se sepa que estamos orgullosos de ser llamados Pedro Pan, de que estamos agradecidos a nuestros padres que hicieron el sacrificio de enviarnos a un futuro incierto; pero que ofrecía más tranquilidad y seguridad de lo que estábamos viviendo en Cuba.

Camp Matecumbe es el lugar ideal para mantener físicamente recuerdos de nuestra historia, vamos a unirnos todos, no solamente los Matecumberos, sino todos los Pedro Pan.

El Board de Directores de OPPG ha tomado la iniciativa en dar estos primeros pasos y les estamos muy agradecidos por su esfuerzo.

Hago un llamado a todos a trabajar unidos para conseguir que podamos decir MATECUMBE VIVE.

“Matecumbe, nombre indio, coraje y abnegación
Matecumbe, tu recuerdo, vivirá en mi corazón…”

Matecumbe High School Class Reunion- A 50 year reunion chronicle

by Daniel Arco Reyes

In the morning of Saturday June 8th, the grounds of Camp Matecumbe were visited by a crowd in excess of 200 people which included former residents of the camp, their spouses, children, grandchildren and friends as well as many other Pedro Pan kids that were housed at different facilities and their families.  The large crowd included a Pedro Pan mother, Leonor Valdivia, representing the brave mothers of the 14,048 Pedro Pan children, the women that courageously chose freedom for their sons and daughters over oppression at the price of separation.

The gathering marked the Golden Anniversary (50 years) reunion of the first and only graduating class of Matecumbe High School.  For this special and uplifting event several of the grads were reunited once again as they have done before. Guys travelled from different parts of the country to attend the festivities, to rekindle the friendship and brotherhood forged under the tents and on the shadows of the pine trees of the camp.

The program was initiated inside the Gran Cabana with a Thanksgivings Mass officiated by Father Sergio Garcia-Miro, one of the four former camp instructors also in attendance.  Some of the members of the '63 graduating class participated in the liturgy. During the school year of 1962-63 Fr. Sergio was the instructor in charge of this group. Immediately following the mass, Carmen Valdivia, representing OPPG’s Board of Directors with the assistance of the former instructors, presented each of the grads present a certificate commemorating the historical occasion.

The attendees enjoyed a plethora of hors d'oeuvres before a delicious paella was served to everyone's delight.


Back row left to right: Leandro Alvarez (Hialeah, Fl), Mario Naranjo (North Carolina), Roberto Balbis (West Palm Beach, Fl), Ernesto Perdomo (New Jersey), Angel Carballo (Puerto Rico), Jesus Esteban Ramil (Miami,Fl), Luis Lopez (Miami, Fl), Porfirio Gramatges (Marco Island, Fl) , Daniel Arco (Texas) and Wilfredo Braceras (Miami, Fl). Front row left to right: Rolando Crespo (Miami, Fl) and Arturo Lara (Pennsylvania).

In the evening hours the group of graduates got together at the home of one of their classmate to continue visiting with each other in a more intimate environment, to recount events, to tell anecdotes, to remember their teachers and their classmates absent from this reunion, to relive their days in camp and to catch up with the happenings of each other. While the room was filled with laughter, joy and good times the group of wives (which connected equally as well as the guys) marveled at the strong bond these men have been able to create and maintain despite the passing of five decades.  Though they are scattered throughout the country they have the ability to reconnect instantaneously with each other and carry on as if they have never been separated from each other for any period of time.  As so aptly was said several times during the reunion "fifty years have gone by and nothing has changed"