I have recently arrived back from an extended trip to Miami, FL where I attended the 50th anniversary of the Pedro Pan flights that brought so many of us Cuban children to the U.S.
I arrived alone at the Miami Beach Resort Hotel where the event was held. I thought it was appropriate, arriving alone at this venue to commemorate the day when I had arrived alone in Miami. I was about to reunite with two cousins and several grade school friends, some of whom had disappeared from my life when I was a child in Cuba during the time of secrets.
I asked the cab driver to let me out on the sidewalk in front of the hotel instead of at the hotel door. The long driveway in front of the hotel was crowded with cars delivering other Pedro Pans to their destination. I had plenty of time and walked up the driveway slowly, scanning faces for any sign of recognition and taking in the Miami fashion scene unfolding before my eyes. I am used to Northwest fashion now, with its emphasis on comfort. I have grown to love lose clothing and flat shoes. Standing near the front steps to the hotel I admired the long gowns floating past me and wondered how so many women my age managed to balance themselves on four inch heels.
I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the warm salty air all around me, caressing my skin. Memories of Cuba on the edge of my mind becoming visible, I chose not to allow them entry, opened my eyes and walked up the steps. The moment I stepped inside I felt the electricity in the air. Fifty years of yearning to see familiar faces, cries of recognition, tears of joy and of sadness for all the time that had been missed. Eyes searching, darting from face to face and wearing a look of kindness and love even when recognition eluded them. Fifty years later….would we recognize each other’s faces? The pre- dinner cocktail party was in full swing and as I walked up the steps to get my name tag I was swept into the arms of friends I had kept up with or reunited with recently, and we found ourselves facing a society photographer. Smiles. Memories of other society photographers when we were children of prominent families and our pictures appeared in the Retrograbado de la Marina. Hugs followed. We agreed to meet later at the banquet table where ten of us would sit together for the first time in forever.
Voices beckoned from the noisy ballroom. Words bounced off the walls and flew around trembling like bubbles about to burst. Is this what walking into heaven would be like? Recognition, embrace, words and sobs spilling out as the heart reconnected with long lost loved ones? Would joy like this greet us? Is that why so many of my hospice patients looked blissful as they took their last breath? I approached a table to get a snack and heard “Yolie!!” my old name…I ran towards the voice and into the arms of my cousin Seida and her sister Sonia. Indescribable joy and tears at the years we had missed. The miracle of love that continues to fill me with awe. I hadn’t lost even one little bit of the love I felt for them then- if anything, I loved them more! And so it went with other reunions that night…Emy, Adela, Yoli, Elena, Ana, Beatriz.
Before dinner we gathered. I am not sure of the attendance but there were ten to a table and we were on table 58. A wonderful dinner followed and then we were treated to Cuban music by a very good Cuban band. Time didn’t stop, it flew by entirely too fast; but what a gift the night was for all of us! What a wonderful opportunity we had, not only to reunite but to thank all those responsible for our celebration in freedom!
On the first page of our program our sentiments were made clear:
“We the children of Pedro Pan offer our heartfelt thanks, love and appreciation
to our Pedro Pan heroes on both sides of the Florida Straights for their unselfish
sacrifice to give us the opportunity to live in freedom
and help us achieve our dreams.”