Research Guides

Operation Pedro Pan Collections Guide

About Operation Pedro Pan
Operation Pedro Pan’s history involves the unprecedented migration of 14,000 unaccompanied minors as they left their beloved Cuba for the United States from 1960-1962. Operation Pedro Pan truly developed as a means to help those Cuban parents who sought to send their children to the United States to avoid Communist indoctrination. Rumors spread on the island claiming that the Castro regime would take away the “Patria Potestad” or the right of a parent over their children, and would separate parent and child so the children could be properly taken care of by the government with minimal parental contact. Parental fears of indoctrination by the government skyrocketed and parents looked towards any avenue to get their children out of Cuba. Many of them had sent their children to private Roman Catholic schools, so they turned to the Catholic Welfare Bureau for help.

At the helm of this operation was Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, who learned of the great need of children travelling alone to the United States and with no relatives or friends to care for them. On November 15, 1960, a young boy named Pedro was taken to Monsignor Walsh. Pedro, on United States soil for barely a month, had been passed around from family member to family member without any security or stability in sight. He was sent to the United States by his parents, alone, under the expectation relatives or friend would care for him. The realities for Pedro and other children were that these relatives were not in the financial conditions to care for them. Leaders in the community from various agencies then appealed to the federal government for assistance, as the number of refugees entering Miami were more than they were able to assist on their own.

During the second week of December, 1960, James Baker, headmaster of Ruston Academy, an American school in Havana, came to United States seeking land upon which he could build a school. His goal was to establish a school in the United States so he would be able to give Cuban refugee children housing and education. Mr. Baker learned that the Catholic Welfare Bureau had a similar idea to provide boarding and care for the unaccompanied children, so he met with Monsignor Walsh. Monsignor Walsh believed that the children would be better placed in social welfare agencies that were equipped to handle all aspects of foster care, so Mr. Baker decided to help Monsignor Walsh. Operation Pedro Pan was born as Mr. Baker agreed he would get the children out of Cuba while Monsignor Walsh would secure their care in the United States.  
What was at first anticipated at 200 children soon grew beyond expectation. After the U.S. Embassy in Cuba closed and visas were no longer able to be distributed there, the federal government granted Monsignor Walsh permission to issue visa waivers for children to come into the United States. With the help of dissidents in Cuba, including Polita and Ramon Grau, visa waivers were able to get into the hands of many Cuban parents and the influx of children arriving in Miami without parents continued to grow. Many of these children were taken in by family, but for those under the auspices of the Catholic Welfare Bureau, homes like St. Joseph’s Villa or Camp Matecumbe became their homes. Many others were later relocated to 35 different states as the numbers kept soaring.

Along the way they grew deeply attached to their care-givers in the United States, like Camp Matecumbe nurse Sara Yaballi, who became like a second mother for many of them or Alberto Cuartas, a houseparent at various homes, who became like a father to them. Some parents had to remain in Cuba, for reasons ranging from the care of other or elderly family members to anti-Castro underground political activity, but others were able to be reunited with their children in the United States. The stories of the Pedro Pans, as they are known now, reflects a deep rooted yearning, for their parents and their native land. While separated from their parents, Pedro Pans exhibited great courage, often keeping their hardships from their parents to not worry them. Among the Pedro Pans lies a great feeling of indebtedness with their parents for their sacrifice, and a great sense to prove that it was worth it. Their struggles propelled many of them to greatness, which they now share to benefit others under their charitable organization, Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. 

Works Referenced:
Conde, Yvonne M. Operation Pedro Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban Children. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Gay, Kathlyn. Leaving Cuba: from Operation Pedro Pan to Elian. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.
Triay, Victor Andrés. Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.
Walsh, Bryan O. "Cuban Refugee Children." Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 13 (1971): 378-415.
About Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc.
Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. is the charitable organization founded in 1991 resulting in the gathering of many of the unaccompanied children who migrated to the United States under Operation Pedro Pan. This group is the result of a Pledge of Thanksgiving given by the children in 1990, in which they aspired to honor the sacrifices of their parents and to thank the United States and Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh for their contributions to Operation Pedro Pan. Their aim is to benefit present-day children in need as they were once benefitted, to document and spread the history Operation Pedro Pan, and to locate others who came to the United States under the unaccompanied children’s program. 

Works Referenced:
Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc.
Related Collections
Documentaries and Multimedia
The Lost Apple - Located in the Pedro Pan Collection, 1961-2010, Folder 3. 

Operation Pedro Pan: The Largest Recorded Exodus of Unaccompanied Minors in the Western Hemisphere - by the Smithsonian Institute. Located in Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., Collection, 1971-2013, Box 2, Folder 1.

Escape From Havana: An American Story - By CNBC. Located in the Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., Collection, 1971-2013, Box 1, Folder 7.

Interviews - Elisa Vega, a Pedro Pan mother. Located in Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., Collection, 1971-2013, Box 2, Folder 1.

History Cuban Jewish Community - Cuban Hebrew Congregation of Miami 1890s - 2009. Located in Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., Collection, 1971-2013, Box 2, Folder 1.

Grupo Pedro Pan - Musical recording comprised of Pedro Pans including Marisela Verena, Lissette and Willy Chirino. Located in Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., Collection, 1971-2013, Box 2, Folder 1.
UM Digital Collections
Contact Information
This guide is maintained by the following individual(s):

Juan A. Villanueva

Amanda Moreno

  • Esperanza Bravo de Varona Chair and Director of the Cuban Heritage Collection
  • (305) 284-5854

Powered by SubjectsPlus