It is time to give thanks, and I want to offer my gratitude to a program that took care of more than 14,000 Cuban children between the years 1960 and 1962: Operación Pedro Pan. Without this program, we—I was among those children—would not have received the love we experienced when we arrived on American shores, lonely and scared, without our parents.
Dedicated to Operación Pedro Pan, this blog honors a few Pedro Pans who have excelled in this country.
First, Fernando (Fernan) Hernández, in whose book, The Cubans: Our Footprints Across America, a chapter is devoted to successful Pedro Pans. The information on this blog is excerpted from that chapter.
Fernan came to this country at the age of 9 with his brother, 11. It would take them four years before they were reunited with their parents in New York City. Fernan is a graduate of Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan and St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Communication Arts and Management. Beside The Cubans: Our Footprints Across America, he wrote The Cubans: Our Legacy in the United States (both available on http://www.amazon.com.). Fernan is the author of Spanish-language books Potaje, and Lo que aprendi de mi Perro. His works have also appeared in the anthology Un Horizonte Literario: Poesias, Cuentos y Algo Mas. Fernan has done more than any other author to bring attention to the accomplishments of Cubans and Cuban Americans in the United States.
The story of Rodri Rodríguez, another Pedro Pan¸ starts at a younger age. She arrived in Miami as a frightened seven year old girl. After a short period in Miami at one of the camps operated by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, she was relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rodri is President and CEO of Rodri Entertainment Inc., an international entertainment production company, founded in 1976. Even before that, her presence was felt in the entertainment arena when she played a key role in the decision to have the Latin category added to the Grammy Awards. In 2002, she was elected to the Los Angeles County Fair Association, the first Latina elected to this Board, and in 2006, she was honored as the National Latina Business Woman of the Year by the National Latina Business Women Association. In 2004, Hispanic Magazine selected Rodriguez to receive their Entertainment Award previously presented to Anthony Quinn and Gloria Estefan. (For more information on Rodriguez, click www.rodri.com)
Arturo Codina arrived in this country at age 14 in 1961 with a change of clothes, an old Cuban coin and not speaking a word of English. He was relocated to an orphanage in New Jersey where occasionally he was bullied and beaten by older boys. After three years in the orphanage and in an out of foster homes, his mother arrived in the United States. Codina did not want his mother to work so he began supporting both by working, and even though today he is a multimillionaire, he never achieved a college education. After a few jobs, first bagging groceries and later as a bank teller, he started a company for computerized billing, which he later sold for over $5 million. As Chairman and CEO of Codina Group, he grew the firm to be Florida’s largest privately-held commercial real estate company. Codina has received a number of awards over the years, including the “Humanitarian of the Year Award” from the American Red Cross, and the “National Leadership Award,” from the Merage Foundation, which recognizes leaders whose journeys to the United States as immigrants have made a positive impact on the quality of life for all Americans.
These are less than a handful of the Pedro Pans that are featured in Hernández’s book. On behalf of all Pedro Pans, an eternal thanks to Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, Ramón “Mongo” Grau and his sister Polita Grau (they served respectively 20 and 14 years in Cuban jails for their participation in OPP), Jorge and Peggy Guarch and all the others who coordinated our arrival to the United States.
A big thanks to this country for opening its arms to all the Pedro Pans who came here in search of freedom and the ultimate American Dream.