Miami Stories Project
Fri May 17, 2013
After Bay Of Pigs And Pedro Pan Campground, Cuban Exiles Build Family In Miami
Our family came from Havana, a beautiful city that some have called a tropical paradise.
My brothers and I came to Miami on a Pan American flight and were taken to a campground that the Pedro Pan organizers had set up in Kendall, near where Town & Country Mall now stands. We were there for about two weeks before being sent to Albuquerque, N.M., where we were taken in by the family of Dr. Eugene Purtell.
The Purtells had six children ranging in age from 14 (Kathleen) to 2 (Timmy). I was 12; my brothers were 11 and 10.
The Purtells helped us learn the language, comforted us and allayed our concerns over whether our parents would be able to leave Cuba.
My father was a vice president for Upjohn Pharmaceuticals. He worked in Cuba; the company was based in Kalamazoo, Mich. Upjohn staged a high-level meeting in Mexico City to convince the Castro government to issue my parents a temporary visa to attend the meeting.
The Cuban government did. When they arrived in Mexico City, they learned there was no meeting and that Upjohn, along with the American ambassador to Mexico, had secured resident visas for them to live in the United States.
We lived in Kalamazoo for about 1 ½ years, until my father retired from Upjohn after 25 years. We moved
to Miami, which was small then.
I came to Miami when I was 14. In those early days, it was difficult. My brothers, Ramon and Rafael, and I delivered newspapers for The Miami Herald, waking up in the pre-dawn hours to deliver on our bikes. We kept those jobs throughout high school.
We attended LaSalle High in Coconut Grove. We were taught by many of the same brothers who had been our teachers in Cuba, which helped us reconnect to our culture. Later, we attended Miami Dade College.
While there, I got a job at Burdines as a merchandise handler. Burdines was a company that helped the Cuban community by giving them jobs and extending credit. Burdines, now Macy's, has been, and still is, my only employer for 40 years (other than the paper route).
Miami is where I met my wife, Ivonne. Her father and uncle took part in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. We married in 1972 and have always lived in Miami.
Our two children were born here. Our daughter graduated from Nova Southeastern University and is a psychologist; our son graduated from the University of Miami and is an attorney. We have two grandchildren, and a third is on his or her way.
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About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Company, WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.
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