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!