“DeSantis against the Archbishop of Miami, with Cuban Americans in the middle,” shouted a March 15 New York Times a title that put Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, a staunch immigrant advocate, in the crosshairs of the city’s feisty Cuban-American community, with further pushback from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
The origins of the controversy date back to early 2022, when Bishop Wenski sharply criticized the Republican leader’s efforts to restrict the resettlement of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the state.
“DeSantis is trying to shut down all federal programs in Florida that serve these unaccompanied children as well as services to Cubans (and Haitians, Venezuelans, etc.) released by the United States under their ‘Parole’ authority. “, charged the archbishop in a Jan. 14 column titled “Why is the governor going after the children? ” for The Florida Catholicthe archdiocesan newspaper.
Archbishop Wenski warned the governor’s policy could close the church-run Cutler Bay shelter, which has cared for about 50 children under COVID-19 restrictions.
And in an effort to build his case by harnessing the experience of local Catholics, the Archbishop equated the large number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border today with the historic Operation Pedro Pan airlift that brought 14 000 Cuban children in America in the tumultuous aftermath of the 1959 war. Cuban Revolution.
“Sixty years after Pedro Pan… there are new waves of unaccompanied minors”, from Central America, he writes “[T]hey aren’t much different from those Cuban kids of 60 years ago. The desperation that drives parents of unaccompanied minors today is reminiscent of the desperation that gripped Cuban parents 60 years ago.
The Archbishop’s attempt to link Cuban children participating in the Pedro Pan airlift 60 years ago, and Central American children and adolescents now fleeing gang violence and poverty, has sparked a heated debate within Miami’s Cuban-American community. The ensuing discussion, spilling over into public meetings and local media, prompted some Cuban-Americans to rally around the archbishop. But he also shed light on the specific conditions on the ground that inspired the two-year evacuation of Cuban children, a joint effort by the US State Department and the Catholic Church.
For additional perspective on the Pedro Pan airlift, the Register contacted Carlos Eire, T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and award-winning author of scholarly and nonfiction books. . Eire and his brother were among thousands of Cuban miners flown to that country between 1960 and 1962. He described his childhood in Castro’s Cuba in Waiting for snow in Havana (2003), which won the National Book Award in Nonfiction and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Learning to Die in Miami (2010), his second memoir, trace the often traumatic process of his resettlement in the United States
In an email exchange with Register editor Joan Frawley Desmond, Eire shared her views on Archbishop Wenski’s comments, while dismissing The Times’ coverage of the dispute as politically motivated and ‘exaggerated’ .
Archbishop Wenski equated the Pedro Pan airlift which brought more than 14,000 children fleeing the communist takeover to the arrival of large numbers of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America fleeing poverty and poverty. gang violence. Why were his comments controversial for some Cuban Americans?
His remarks might have been controversial to some members of the Pedro Pan community because the archbishop made what philosophers call a “category error” – that is, he wrongly assigned a quality or an action to a class of immigrants that can only be properly attributed to a totally different class.
The circumstances surrounding the migration of unaccompanied minors vary enormously, as do the circumstances of all migrations. The two waves of child migrants compared by the Archbishop are very different in many ways.
The purpose of the Pedro Pan airlift was not to send children to the United States permanently, as immigrants who would eventually live here. We were refugees. Our parents too. Much like Ukrainians now fleeing Russia, the intention of the migration was to return home one day – hopefully soon.
The current wave of migration mentioned by the Archbishop is not of this type, and this is one of the main reasons why the comparison was a category error.
What were the conditions on the ground in Cuba when your parents agreed to send you to the United States?
At the time our parents decided to send us to the United States, there was absolute certainty that parents would lose control of their children’s education, as well as their future. To begin with, all education in Cuba was placed in the hands of an aggressively communist and atheist totalitarian dictatorship. Education had already turned into a total and relentless immersion in indoctrination.
Children were also forced to join the so-called “Pioneers”, a paramilitary organization similar to the Nazi Youth of the Third Reich or the Pioneers of the Soviet Union and all its satellites. Children could be forced to perform tasks falsely called “volunteer” labor in labor camps during the summer, or sent on various kinds of “revolutionary” missions in Cuba or abroad.
This applied to both boys and girls. For boys, there was the added certainty of forced military service at age 18. Then there was also the possibility of children being sent to the Soviet Union and its satellite states, which had already begun to happen regularly.
Parents had no power to stop the Cuban government from imposing all these “revolutionary” tasks and “benefits” on their own children.
What type of guidance did you receive before, during and after your arrival in the United States?
Before leaving, our parents continued to live as best they could. But after the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, the spy houses set up in every block of towns and cities – the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution – watched all the children and tracked down parents like mine. who were trying to get us out of Cuba. When we arrived in the United States, we were all met by representatives of the Pedro Pan program and sent to our pre-determined places: some with relatives, others in foster homes, most between us in the camps, which was an intermediate step towards placement. in another type of foster environment, either in a foster family or in an orphanage or boarding school.
After arrival, this can vary a lot depending on its placement. But the Pedro Pan program kept track of everyone, albeit slowly and somewhat haphazardly. My brother and I found ourselves in horrible foster care in Miami for nine months while waiting to be reassigned to an uncle who had moved to a small town in the Midwest. We had slipped through the cracks and it was only by accident that a social worker noticed our plight.
The New York Times’ According to the story, the children of the Pedro Pan airlift were predominantly upper-middle and middle-class, suggesting that there were strong class differences between the children fleeing Cuba via the airlift and the unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Was it?
The vast majority of Pedro Pan’s children were middle class, not upper class or upper middle class. Cuba had a huge middle class, perhaps the largest in all of Latin America. Many of Pedro Pan’s children were lower middle class and also poor. And we weren’t all white or Catholic.
It is nonetheless true that the main reason we were separated from our parents was political rather than economic. In this regard, the two groups differ significantly.
Are Cuban-Americans who disagreed with the archbishop’s comments worried that he is downplaying the totalitarian nature of the Cuban government? Is this partly an attempt to clarify the nature of the regime as part of progressive efforts to justify its human rights abuses?
Yes, it is highly likely that some Cuban exiles are upset by the Archbishop’s category error for this very reason. It annoys me. I guess it bothers the others too.
It is all too common that the crimes of the Cuban totalitarian dictatorship are ignored. And, unfortunately, even more frequently that this dictatorship is constantly praised by progressives.
So some members of the Pedro Pan community believed that the Archbishop had ignored or dismissed the unique experience of political refugees?
Political refugees who arrive penniless in the host country almost always experience a sharp decline in their status, income and living conditions and most of them tend to never recover from this loss. devastating. In contrast, most migrants fleeing poverty and crime seek to improve their lives in the host country.
Did the refugee crisis caused by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine stir up memories of your own flight to the United States?
Most definitely, yes. And all of them lost all their possessions, as well as their homeland, and most of them had to leave behind loved ones. This kind of loss is very familiar to me. The Lord has mercy.
When you arrived at the Pedro Pan airlift, the US immigration system was still working. Now it’s broken, with endless delays for people looking to come here legally. Does this fact help to explain Bishop Wenski’s words?
Yes, this sad fact probably has something to do with the Archbishop’s remarks. What is happening on our southern border is absolute horror and shame, that’s for sure.
Any other thoughts?
I want to emphasize that this incident is exaggerated. It’s not a big problem at all. The archbishop angered some Cubans. Happens all the time. He may speak Spanish, but deep down he doesn’t seem to understand Cuban exile culture – a difficult task for anyone, even those who are part of that culture.
Progressives and liberals are overrepresented in journalism. The fact that Ron DeSantis – a bogeyman for those leaning left – added his own comments made it seem like once again those conservative Cubans were on the wrong side of history.
Another way of saying this is that this story in the NYT is more about how The temperature likes to confuse Cuban exiles than anything the archbishop said.