subjectId: 94

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

Pedro Pan Collection, 1961-2010 - The Pedro Pan Collection gathers materials donated by Pedro Pans in reference to their experiences during Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s.

Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc. Collection, 1971-2013 - The Operation Pedro Pan Alumni Collection comprises materials in relation to Operation Pedro Pan gathered by its alumni from 1971 to 2013.

Sara Yaballí Papers, 1961-1963 - The Sara Yaballi Papers contain the correspondence and other materials of Sara Yaballi, head nurse at Camp Matecumbe in West Dade, FL during Operation Pedro Pan during from 1961-1962. Because of sensitive medical information, access to this collection is restricted until 2115. 

Alberto Cuartas Papers, 1960s-1970s - The Alberto Cuartas Papers contain the photo albums, correspondence and other materials of Alberto Cuartas, counselor and house parent at Camp Matecumbe in West Dade, FL during Operation Pedro Pan and in other children’s homes under the auspice of the Catholic Welfare Bureau during the 1960s and 1970s.

Antolin Garcia Carbonell Papers, 1962 - 2003 - The Antolin García Carbonell Papers  contain documents pertaining to the Opa-Locka Airport Camp during its period of use by the Catholic Welfare Bureau for refugee children under Operation Pedro Pan from 1962-2003.

Cuban Refugee Center Records, 1960-1978 - The Cuban Refugee Center Records include correspondence, reports, publications, photographs, and clippings created and collected by the Cuban Refugee Center (CRC), in Miami in 1960 as part of a federal program to assist Cubans arriving at the United States as political refugees, including unaccompanied minors. This collection includes information about the legacy of Operation Pedro Pan, specifically the Unaccompanied Minors Program in 1980 and 1981.

Materials relating to Pedro Pan can be found in the Unaccompanied Children's Program. See specifically:
Box 13, Folder 258
Box 35, Folder 8
Box 44, Folders 9-93
In the clippings series, see files on "Unaccompanied Children's Program, 1962-1969" and "Pedro Pan Operation, 1962, 1971."

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

Interview with Chris and Dennis Baker – the sons of James Baker, former headmaster of Ruston Academy, the largest bilingual American School in Cuba as well as a key figure in Operation Pedro Pan. 

Interview with Willy Chirino – a renowned Cuban-American salsa singer and music producer who came to the United States via Operation Pedro Pan. Chirino has recorded over 20 albums since 1974, winning a Grammy in 2006 for Best Salsa/Merengue Album. 

Interview with Olga Chorens – Cuban singer and star of radio and television, with her husband Tony formed the singing duo Olga and Tony. Together they also starred in their own radio and television shows throughout the 1950s. They sent their children to exile through Operation Pedro Pan before reuniting with them. In exile in Miami, they continued to host popular programs and concerts. 

Interview with Maribel Diaz – daughter of renowned Cuban pianist and music instructor, Conchita Espinosa. Conchita founded music academies in Cuba and the United States, receiving numerous awards as a distinguished educator. Maribel came to the United States under Operation Pedro Pan and currently runs her late mother’s school, Conchita Espinosa Academy in Miami. 

Interview with Albertina O’Farrill – a Cuban ambassador’s wide who used her diplomatic connections to help Cubans flee the island after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. O’Farrill also worked with Mongo and Polita Grau to get unaccompanied children out of Cuba through what became known as Operation Pedro Pan. Her counterrevolutionary activities led to her arrest in 1965, and she was a political prisoner for 14 years. 

CHC Lectures and Presentations: Pedro Pan Exodus Presentation – featured several guest speakers who discussed the impact of the program as well as their personal experiences as Pedro Pans.


Children of Flight Pedro PanArmengol Acierno, María. New York: Silver Moon Press, 1994. 

Relato de Una Familia Cubana: desde Bahía Honda basta Islandia (1881) al presenteCepero, Eloy G. Hialeah: Ediciones Universal, 2005.

Operation Pedro Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban ChildrenConde, Yvonne MNew York: Routledge, 1999.

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban BoyEire, Carlos. New York: The Free Press, 2003.

The Red UmbrellaDiaz González, Christina. New York: Random House, 2010.

90 Miles to HavanaFlores-Galbis, Enrique. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2010.

Leaving Cuba : from Operation Pedro Pan to ElianGay, Kathlyn. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.

Operación Pedro Pan: el éxodo de los niños cubanosLeyva, Josefina. Coral Gables: Editorial Ponce de León, 1993.

La pecera de La Habana: recuento de un Pedro Pan : desde Cuba hasta Nuevo México - Rubio-Boitel, Fernando. México, D.F.: Ediciones del Lirio, 2009.

The Lost Apple: Operation Pedro Pan, Cuban Children in the U.S., and the Promise of a Better FutureTorres, María de los Angeles. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.

Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's ProgramTriay, Victor Andrés. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.


The Miami Herald: online access and microfilm

El Nuevo Herald: online access and print/microfilm

Diario Las Américas: available in print and online access (2001-2003)

The New York Times: print/microfilm

Contact Information

This guide is maintained by the following individual(s):

Subject Specialist

  • Amanda Moreno

    Esperanza Bravo de Varona Chair and Director of the Cuban Heritage Collection

  • Juan A. Villanueva

    Cuban Heritage & Spanish Language Collections Archivist