Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are they White? or Light?

(Chapter 18 from "Finding the Statue of Liberty in Cuba")

I could have kept going. I was headed right for how the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis affect Cuban exiles in America, just like I taught in lecture several times a semester, over and over over the years.

But I stopped myself. 

They didn't need to know all of that, and besides that, their eyes already looked full of thoughts, like processing what I've just said is enough for awhile.

Next time I go to Cuba - or the time after that maybe -  there is something I want to tell them about. Something actually, I've been meaning to tell Americans about too.  

Every semester while I’m teaching the Cold War, I lecture on Cuban Revolution and the US response: Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and Operation Pedro Pan. I’ve done it so many times I’m having trouble stopping myself from lecturing to these people who I barely know and who won’t be taking a test from me any time soon.

But still, I want to tell them about the letters I found from Operation Pedro Pan, when Cuban families sent 14,000 unaccompanied children to the US to escape communist indoctrination early in the Cuban Revolution. 

 One summer during graduate school, back before the internet and OnDemand and Twitter, I hung out in the archives just looking for what was to be found and basking in the glory of being a graduate students.

A friend researching Operation Pedro Pan opened a box of materials and was disappointed to find just a bunch of letters.

 She opened another box and moved on, but I’m nosy, so I grabbed the letters and they were written by Americans willing to open their homes to the Cuban children.  This was an awesome find because almost all of the Cuban children who came to the US went to family or group homes with Catholic Charities.

There were sweet letters:  
(September 12, 1963, Indiana)
My husband and I have great sympathy for the Cuban refugees that have left their homes and possessions in search of personal freedom. In particular we have great sympathy and great respect for the courage of those parents who have sent their children alone to this country.
 We would like to take a small part in proving to some parents that their trust and faith were not in vain.

There were less sweet letters:

(May 7, 1962, Indiana)  
…Could we have our choice?…Are they white? or light?

(March 10, 1962, Utah)
We would like to apply for a fairer skinned girl five and at the oldest six…my  husband has dark hair and mine is light brown therefore we feel that if we had  a fairer skin child she would be accepted…better.

I’m not sure if this family meant to say they were scraping the bottom of the barrel, but their intention come across:

 (October 24, 1968, Michigan)
 I am writing you because we understand that Florida has an abundance of Cuban children waiting to be adopted, but who are often “hard to place” and therefore may be waiting in vain. My husband and I would like to adopt a child, but not the beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed little girl on the Ivory Soap ad who would have no trouble  being adopted….Instead, we want to adopt a child who might not otherwise find a home, a Cuban child, or Puerto Rican or Mexican.

And then there’s this guy:
(May 27, 1962, South Dakota)
            I keep reading about the children that are sent here to escape the unfortunate situation in Cuba. I am a musician [who] used to be in orchestras and universities as a teacher. Now I am teaching here in a small college, and we have no brass players. They are strained, and I would like to get some youngster or youngsters who would like to play a brass instrument, give them free lessons, take them in, and make something of them.

 Anyway, in my heart I would have wanted to tell everyone in Cuba that the people in America love them and wanted to help their children, but now, here at lunch today just isn’t the place.

Kennedy is gone, Khrushchev is gone, the world has changed. I’m ready to talk about Cuba here and now and not focus on the past but I can’t think of real questions to ask them, hard questions about politics and opportunity and access to the outside world. Instead we talk about the status of Puerto Rico, which everyone has something to say about.

Lunch winds down and the man with the cars on his tie leaves us. Machete goes back to the taxi to return a call and Mom takes me through a garden to show me where she walked with my father a few months ago, here.

 She points to a bench where they had sat together.  I can’t even begin to imagine he had as much fun as I’m having, even without lecturing on the Cuban Revolution.