Operation Pedro Pan: The Cuban Children’s Exodus

HistoryMiami Museum
Miami, FL

Operation Pedro Pan, as executed between December 26, 1960 and October 23, 1962, is an important part of Miami’s history. More than 14,000 unaccompanied minors emigrated from Communist Cuba to the United States during the course of the operation; and while some of those children left the area to start their lives, many stayed in Miami. These children represent the first major group of people to emigrate from Cuba following Castro’s revolution, and the event marks a significant change in U.S. immigration policy with regards to Cuba; a change that forever altered the cultural landscape of South Florida. The exhibition Operation Pedro Pan: The Cuban Children’s Exodus recognizes and tells the story of this important moment in Miami’s history.

Operation Pedro Pan was designed to be emotional and thought-provoking. The exhibition is wholly immersive; placing the visitor in a series of environments intended to establish a personal connection between the visitor and the exhibit’s unseen narrators. The exhibition narrative is divided into five sections, each with its own unique environment, following a timeline of events beginning with the Cuban Revolution and concluding with reflections on the ordeal and a life spent in the United States. Within each section, the story is told viscerally through the environment and artifacts contained within; visually and audibly through project images and archival footage; and informationally through labels and narrative text.

The majority of the objects displayed in the exhibition were provided as a loan by Operation Pedro Pan Group, Inc., our partner in developing the exhibition. Objects are displayed in a number of manners – both contextually within an environment, and as an assemblage meant to relate an entire group’s varied experience across one theme. For example, “Our Departure from Cuba” recreates the Havana airport from which many Cuban exile children left. Cases were created to resemble ticket desks at the airport. Many Pedro Pans’ Cuban national passports, along with government letters acquiescing to emigration, plane tickets, and other personal effects are displayed in the cases. These objects all relate directly to one or more Pedro Pan’s experience at the moment they left their families in Cuba. Interview videos in each section provide firsthand accounts of the exodus while giving the exhibition a voice and unquestionably identifying who is telling the story of Operation Pedro Pan.

One reviewer noted: “The basic outlines of the story are familiar to many people who live in Miami, but it has been difficult until recently to explore the nuances of this experience because of still-unresolved tensions among Cuban exiles over the meanings of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and its subsequent turn towards communism. This exhibit provides a building block in the process of re-narrating that past.”