Encounter With The Past
On November 13 2010, the children gathered to remember. Hundreds of Pedro Pan airlift survivors met at the Miami Beach Resort Hotel in Miami, FL, to commemorate 50 years since the beginning of the Pedro Pan flights that brought us from Cuba to the United States.
The atmosphere was electric with anticipation. Many of us would be reunited for the very first time since we were torn asunder from the land of our birth by circumstances beyond our control; since our childhoods were suspended somewhere between the island of our birth and the country that welcomed us.
We were not immigrants in this country, but political refugees whose parents had risked losing us forever rather than relinquishing their rights as parents to raise us in a land that no longer had our best interest at heart. The magnitude and beauty of that sacrifice made in a combination of desperation and hope was at the center of our Pedro Pan celebration.
So many years later as classmates from Cuba, campmates from Miami, and many who had been sent to homes, schools, and orphanages throughout the country fell into each other’s arms, we embraced fully aware that we have made it safely through our journeys against all odds. Our faces are the shadows of our childhood selves, our countenance a little worse for wear, our waists a little wider, our hair a little whiter.
But as the memories of our times together came rushing back, at the sudden encounter of our eyes, the years fell away and sweetest memories became our fast companions for the night.
Our smiles are not without a touch of sadness as we remember those who loved us so unselfishly, most of them now buried far away from the land of their birth. The majority of our parents were able to join us in exile sooner or later, sometimes many years after we left. They had not dreamt of coming here. They had already lived in a land of plenty and opportunity and had it not been for Fidel Castro they would have lived out their lives in the country of their birth as most people choose to do.
We took the time to thank those who started Operation Pedro Pan and those who received us in this country before beginning a celebration filled with food and Cuban music, the music that we still resonate with after such a long time, the music that our limbs and hips know by heart.
The room was filled with stories of profiles in courage, men and women with good hearts and an uncanny instinct for survival. I’m not sure it if was gratitude that demanded we put one foot in front of the other and somehow make a life. Or if having already used the option of flight all we had left to us was the option to fight- to fight to survive the transplant to our new home without our families.
Sharing these few hours so many years after we boarded the airplanes where we left our childhoods, we found ourselves feeling like children and paused to contemplate the powerful forces that had been at work in the lives of the Pedro Pans. These were sweet and healing hours during which we created more good memories to accompany us on the rest of our journey.
Life went back to “normal” in Miami very quickly as we went back to resume our lives. But something had changed. There had been souls reuniting under the Miami moon the night before. The world felt different and lighter, a little kinder place in which to dwell.
No Cuban reunion is without its food, and although these dishes were not served at our dinner, I thought you might like to give more of Piti’s recipes a try:
(Cuban Pot Roast)
1 3 or 4 lb Eye Round or Rump Roast
1 large onion, sliced
1 or 2 tbspn of Spanish paprika (depending how much you like paprika)
2 garlic cloves
1 cup of beef bouillon
½ cup of wine
1 bacon slice
About ¼ lb of ham, cut in small cubes
1 lb potatoes, cut into medium pieces
Salt and pepper
- Cut some small slices into the beef and insert pieces of ham and bacon.
- Marinate the meat with a mixture of orange juice and lemon, onions, salt, pepper about 2 or 3 hours in the refrigerator.
- Pat the meat dry with a paper towel, and over medium heat brown it on all sides in a little olive oil using a large deep pot.
- Add the onions and cook it until the onion starts softening.
- Add the paprika and stir quickly. Add the water and wine and bring it to a boil.
- Lower the heat to medium/low and cover it with a lid.
- Cook for about 2 or 2 ½ hours. Every 25 or 30 minutes turn the meat over to a different position.
- Pierce the beef with a fork and if no liquid comes out, it’s ready.
- If you like to add potatoes, they should be added about 1 ½ hours after it started boiling.
- If you like, about ½ hour before the meat is ready, you can take it out and cut it in medium thick slices and return them to the pot. This helps the cooking process.
This is Abuela’s recipe that she gave me and my friend Celia Maria many years ago. Of all her recipes, this is my favorite. I used to dream of coming home when I moved to Miami in 1975 and ask her to make it for me. I do love Spanish paprika (Pimenton) and I always asked her to add it. You can decide how much you want to put in yourself.
¾ lb pork
1 lb veal
¾ lb of chorizo
1 medium onion
1 small/medium green pepper
1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
2 tbspn of dry wine
1/8 tspn of each – oregano and cumin
1 bay leaf
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut up
4 8 oz packages of Crescent Rolls
- Mix all the ingredients except the eggs and rolls.
- Cook it all at medium heat until the meat is cooked well, about 20/30 minutes.
- Spread two Crescent rolls on a lightly oiled cookie sheet making sure you close or punch all the holes together.
- Add the cooked meat mixture on top and spread evenly.
- Sprinkle the cut up eggs on top of the meat mixture.
- Spread the other 2 rolls and place it on top to cover the “empanada”. Press the edges together.
- Make some small slits on the top (so it will breathe)
- Bake it at 375 for about 10 minutes.
- Lower the temperature to about 325 and cook it for about 20 minutes longer or until it turns golden*.
- Let it rest for about 5 or 10 minutes and then cut in individual portions.
*Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.
Tita used to make this recipe. She gave me the recipe and I’ve made it a few times. I don’t know if it’s a typical Spanish recipe or has been adopted with Cuban flavor, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.
Thanks for putting into words emotions that are so difficult to express. The Miami moon that night, at the end of the dinner dance, was spectacular – exactly half moon, symbolizing with its darkness, the terror of the separation from family of each Pedro Pan child at the same time that with its bright crescent half, it witnessed to the new life in freedom the experience eventually delivered.
Elena, so beautifully said! I loved spending time with you. What an absolutely special evening!
It was a truly “magical” night for me to reunite with classmates from the pre-Castro era, which sometimes feels like a movie I watched long ago and not real. I got to see these faces again after all these years of separation “in the flesh”.
At the same time we were celebrating history, 50 years since the Pedro Pan flights. The energy in the ballroom was powerful and happy…maybe there was even a hint of sadness because memories of the feelings we felt as children were brought back also at this memorable event.
Our lives and our hearts are enhanced with tenderness as of this past Saturday night after sharing our life stories in person. We are looking forward to our next reunion and now we even have the photos Seida took with her fabulous cell phone!
Tocaya, Elena, Emy: it was a joy to see you on that special evening, even if for only a short time in the midst of a lot of activity. Elena, I love your observation of how the half moon symbolizes so well the experience we went through. Here we are, after many moons, recycling our memories and reconnecting the loose ends of our young days, not a moment too late. Now I am missing you all and wishing we were sitting around a table talking and eating the results of one of these recipes from Yolie… Maybe some day…