With the ink of my life I shall write a short version of our place in history.
It was 1961 when I came to this country that opened its arms of freedom to us Cubans. Many children were sent alone by their parents to allow them to grow with freedom of religion, of ideals, freedom to choose, simply freedom to be. Back then most of us did not know that this Operation was called Pedro Pan. Actually, we were all married with kids by the time the Operation Pedro Pan “kids” became to know THEY were Pedro Pans, so by then it was the Pedro Pans and their significant others that started to form a group, as it is in my case, since I’m an “adopted” Pedro Pan by marriage and by other little things I will go on to describe.
It was Father Bryan Walsh (back then he was still “father”, later on became Monsignor), who with the Catholic Welfare arranged for about 50 children to come from Cuba to freedom in the USA, these 50 became more than 14,000, all of them arriving alone without their parents. I don’t qualify as a Pedro Pan because my dad left Cuba for USA in September 1959 and later on in July 1961 I came with my mom and two sisters, and even if I came during the Pedro Pan flights I did not come alone but…it is now as adults that we all realize things that maybe we didn’t understand so clearly back then.
My mom was a teacher in Cuba, but the public schools here were/are not as advanced as in Cuba, therefore my parents wanted us to have a private school education, but the money stayed in Cuba….so, I remember clearly having a meeting with Father Walsh in his office at Sts. Peter & Paul Rectory, Parish where we attended Mass and school where my parents wanted us to go. Father Walsh asked me several questions before deciding to help us out and allow me and my younger sister to attend Catholic School paying a minimum. Now, many years after I see there were several Pedro Pans in school with me, both in Sts. Peter & Paul and later on Immaculata/La Salle High School (ILS).
Indirectly Father Walsh taught us, at an early age, that we could get things but, if we worked for it, so my days of working at Sts. P & P began. First I started to work at the school in whatever was necessary until one day one of the sisters saw me an early Saturday morning and said…”no, you should be working at the Rectory, walk over and give them this note.” From then on I worked at the Rectory’s office every Saturday the whole day for years, until I graduated from ILS.
I remember one of the things I had to do was translate into Spanish Father Walsh’s Sunday sermons, as well as those of other priests. Boy am I glad it was from English into Spanish and not the other way around!!! I also had to take phone messages and translate them, as well as the Sunday Bulletin.
I guess we were not appreciative enough back then, we really did not understand the spectrum of it all, but the years have taught us much.
We have come to understand things, like a story my husband Frank told me when he was in one of the camps and there were so many kids, they slept in tents, it was cold, they were at an age where kids eat a lot, food was not sufficient and one day Father Walsh showed up in his sports car with skies on top, .wow, kids got really ticked off and started a strike. Well, later on in life we get to find out Father Walsh came from a well to do family and actually he was helping out rather than taking. He didn’t have to do that, yet he chose to.
Education, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, learning that work was rewarded, a sense of belonging and so much more Father Walsh put on our plate. This was much more than the food we ate, these were lessons that we would carry through life and pass on to our children. And my story is only a drop of ink in the inkwell of life, just a little stroke of our place in history.