Today I have the pleasure of presenting Arturo Bueno and his wife, Estela, two amazing people I met through the Pedro Pans of California Group. Both participated in the exodus of Cuban children that came to this country between 1960 and 1962.
Arturo, tell me where you lived in Cuba and how old you were when you came to the U.S. Also, did you come alone or with a sibling?
I lived in the city of Camaguey. I was born in 1945. I actually came on the last flight from Camaguey before “La Invación” (Bay of Pigs) on April 13, 1961 by myself. I was 16 years old. My brother came three months later, but he doesn’t care to be involved in any activities regarding the Pedro Pans.
Did you go to a camp in Miami, if so, which one? How long were you there?
Actually, George (note: George worked for the Catholic Welfare Bureau and was in charge of meeting unaccompanied Cuban children arriving in Miami) was waiting for the “Havana flights,” so I had to call some relatives. They picked me up at the airport. A few days later, I went to Kendall. At that time Kendall was the only “camp” operated by the program. It was for boys/girls of all ages.
In June 1961, I was transferred to “La Casa Carrion” on Brickel Ave across from a Catholic girls school where we had our meals. It was also the residence of “El cura Walsh” as we called him. Later in September, we were moved to the “motel” on Biscayne Blvd.
I attended La Salle High School where I graduated in June 1962. Even though I was living with my parents at that time, all expenses were paid by the Catholic Welfare.
Where did you go after Miami and when were you reunited with your parents? What was that period of waiting to be reunited with them like?
My parents came at the end of 1961 and I moved in with them probably in January 1962. I did not have any problems waiting for my parents to arrive. I have good memories and “forever friends” from that period. Then we moved to Los Angeles in June 1962; my father came first to look for work.
You have been very active as moderator of the Pedro Pan of California Group on Facebook and as Board member of the Pedro Pan organization. What motivates you to keep so involved with the Pedro Pans?
I am a trustee of Operations Pedro Pan Group (OPPG). As I got older I felt it was necessary to document and spread the word about our experiences. Especially in times when the Cuban communists are trying very hard to distort our history.
I know your wife, Estela, is also a Pedro Pan. Did you meet her while you were both young Pedro Pans or later? Tell us how you met.
This is a very interesting story. We are both from Camaguey. Our families knew each other since 1917. I knew some of her cousins, but I never met her. We were relocated to Los Angeles on the same date, same plane. However, we met in 1967 while going to college.
I know Estela is also very active with the Pedro Pans. How is her involvement different from or similar to yours?
She is very active with the activities of the Pedro Pan of California Group, AKA Cuban Kids from the 60’s Exodus (The name was her idea). She created a map where each member that attends our events places a pin where they were relocated. It has grown to more than 350 members. She also has a book, where each member briefly states their experiences as Pedro Pans.
Is there something else she would like you to say about her experience as a Pedro Pan?
Estela says: I arrived in Miami on March 24, 1962 and George took me to Florida City. It was a Saturday, and a long day, arriving close to 9:00 p.m. after dropping others at Matecumbe and Kendall. I lived there for three months. On June 29, 1962, I came with another girl to a foster home in the city of Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. I lived with them for seven months. My sister, who was over 21, arrived in Los Angeles three months later and worked at the Sacred Heart Academy in La Canada, Flintridge. Seven months later, she claimed me and I moved in with her in Los Angeles.
My parents were deceased. My father died when I was 1-1/2 years old and my mother when I was 5 years old. My sister and I were raised by my maternal aunts, three of them who never married. They joined us in 1971. I was already married and with our first daughter. Arturo always said that he had four “mother in laws”, my aunts and my sister.
The other girl who came with me, does not want to participate in any Pedro Pan event. She also joined her parents and siblings at the same time I did. Her sister and my sister had left Cuba on the same flight to Jamaica and continued together to Miami; they also worked at the same Academy.
Arturo, what would you say is the greatest lesson you learned as a young Pedro Pan? What do you think Estela might say?
Estela says: This experience shaped me to be who I am today. On the first night at Florida City, when I looked in the mirror and realized I had no way to return to Cuba, I asked God to always guide my life and protect me. He has always provided for me. And from that trust, I have always felt optimistic at life and knowing that honesty and hard work will pay off.
Arturo says: “Ditto.” As I get older and find other Pan Pans such as yourself, I feel blessed with each of those friendships.
Thank you, Arturo and Estela on behalf of all the Pedro Pans.