Operation Pedro Pan


Operation Pedro Pan

The Migration of Unaccompanied Children from Castro's Cuba

John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco

280 pages
18 photographs, index


October 2022


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2022


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2022


$32.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

At the outset the proposal seemed modest: transfer two hundred unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami to save them from communism. The time apart from their parents would be short, only until Fidel Castro fell from power by the result of U.S. force, Cuban counterrevolutionary tactics, or a combination of both. Families would be reunited in a matter of months. A plan was hatched, and it worked—until it ballooned into something so unwieldy that within two years the modest proposal erupted into what at the time was the largest migration of unaccompanied minors to the United States.

Operation Pedro Pan explores the undertaking sponsored by the Miami Catholic Diocese, federal and state offices, child welfare agencies, and anti-Castro Cubans to bring more than fourteen thousand unaccompanied children to the United States during the Cold War. Operation Pedro Pan was the colloquial name for the Unaccompanied Cuban Children’s Program, which began under government largesse in February 1961. Children without immediate family support in the United States—some 8,300 minors—received group and foster care through the Catholic Welfare Bureau and other religious, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations as young people were dispersed throughout the country.

Using personal interviews and newly unearthed information, Operation Pedro Pan provides a deeper understanding of how and why the program was devised. John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco demonstrates how the seemingly mundane conditions of everyday life can suddenly uproot civilians from their routines of work, church, and school and thrust them into historical prominence. The stories told by Pedro Pans are filled with horror and resilience and contribute to a refugee memory that still shapes Cuban American politics and identity today.

Author Bio

John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco is an associate professor of American studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He is the author of Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930–1975. His articles have appeared in scholarly journals as well as Washingtonpost.com, TheHill.com, and TalkingPointsMemo.com. Gronbeck-Tedesco has been a guest on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel, NPR’s Marketplace, and WHYY’s Radio Times.


"The stories and anecdotes collected in Operation Pedro Pan speak to the ambivalence and complexity of youth migration, and the disruptive, often surreal experience of being transformed from a child into a political symbol."—Brianna Nofil, Journal of Southern History

"Operation Pedro Pan is more than simply the retelling of history. It is the experience of real people, making their way in the unpredictable storm of historic events."—Cold War Book Reviews

"Operation Pedro Pan is an accessible and vividly written book which will be of interest to specialists and non-specialists alike for its succinct and compelling examination of an important facet of Cold War history, and for its provocative discussions of memory and community."—Emma Wyse, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“A fascinating but forgotten story about the Cold War, child refugees, and civil rights. This is more than a book about the beginnings of Cuban Miami or a foreign relations alliance between the Catholic Church and the U.S. government; it is also a reminder of the complex origins of our own times. Operation Pedro Pan is a brilliant history by a stellar writer.”—Christopher R. W. Dietrich, author of Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization

“An important contribution to the study of Cuban American identities and their hyphenated nationalism. . . . John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco reconstructs the agonizing decision of Cuban families to send away their children from communist Cuba, the racial dynamics that affected them in the United States, and the long-term implications for the format of Cuban-U.S. relationships. . . . Highly recommended.”—Luis Roniger, author of Transnational Perspectives on Latin America: The Entwined Histories of a Multi-state Region

“A gripping narrative that uncovers forgotten aspects of [Operation Pedro Pan], especially by excavating its gender, race, and class dynamics. . . . Weaving together oral histories and new archival sources, Gronbeck-Tedesco moves deftly from the sweeping forces of U.S.-Cuban relations, global Cold War tensions, and Miami’s burgeoning civil rights movement to intimate individual portraits of the children caught in history’s maelstrom.”—Michelle Chase, author of Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952–1962

“John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco uncovers the human experience of this exodus in all its complexity. . . . The voices and memories of the Pedro Pans shed new light on a moment in the Cold War that had significant implications for Cuba and the United States, and for thousands of children whose lives were profoundly changed by the political winds that blew through their families and transported them to a new country.”—Elaine Tyler May, author of Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy

“Operation Pedro Pan was an epic Cold War battle, a distinct moment in U.S. migration history, a child welfare initiative, and one more chapter in the contested histories of Cuba and the United States. This book captures all of this and more. It manages to hold the big picture and intimate family stories in the same frame for an intense and compelling read.”—Karen Dubinsky, author of Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on Language
1. Takeoff
2. Landing
3. From Camps to Resettlement
4. Americanize a la Cubana
5. The “Other Miami”
6. Operation Pedro Pan in Cuba
7. A Brief History of Intimate Ties
8. A National Test
9. Cold War Childhood
10. For God and Country
11. Abuse
12. Vaults of Oblivion
13. Bittersweet Reunions
14. Putting the Program to Bed
15. The Politics of Exile Identity
16. The Return

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