Vol. 12


How Pedro Pan Brought Us Pepy

1959–1972; Havana, Cuba; Miami, Florida, and Tenafly, New Jersey, USA

Fifty-five years ago a Cuban boy at the age of fourteen left his family and fled to the United States for a better life. Jose Angel Suarez — Pepy — was born in Cuba and lived there with his parents and eight brothers and sisters until Castro took power. The sad story for his family was a happy one for mine. Pepy left his homeland, went to America, and ended up becoming a part of my family.

In 1959 Fidel Castro took over Cuba, and things changed for the worse. Pepy lived with his family in Havana, and all of a sudden he was no longer allowed to go to school and his father lost his job. Neighbors had to spy on their neighbors and tell the police if anyone said anything bad about the government. It was not a good way to live, and Pepy wanted out. He worked and saved his money so he could travel to America and go to school and play baseball.

On December 31, 1961, Pepy left Cuba by himself on a plane for Miami on what was known as The Pedro Pan flights.1 At that time a Catholic priest in America named Bryan O. Walsh had arranged flights to help children flee Cuba for a better life in America. Castro let the children go because they didn’t work and were more mouths to feed. When Pepy first got to the United States, he lived with his aunt and uncle in Miami. He was able to finish high school and learn some English.

He was an astonishing baseball player. A scout for the Philadelphia Phillies came to visit him and tell him that he could not play shortstop because of his short stature. However, he could play second baseman. But Pepy turned down the offer.

Because Miami had become so crowded with people from Cuba, Pepy decided that he would like to move someplace else to improve his English and see more of the country. My grandparents’ church in New Jersey was helping to settle single people from Cuba in the area by finding families that they could live with for a few months while they got used to the area and got a job. Pepy went to live with my mom and her family in October of 1964. He was supposed to stay only a few months but quickly became part of the family and did not move out until eight years later, when he got married.

Pepy still lives in New Jersey near my other relatives with his wife, Regina. We go to visit them, and they come here in the summer with their children and grandchildren to go to the beach with us. I am sad that Pepy had to leave his family at such a young age, but so happy he is a part of mine.

Colby Lewis; North Carolina, USA


1. Between 1960 and 1962, fourteen thousand children moved to the United States through Pedro Pan. Parents had requested this opportunity for their children.



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