A Point of View © 1996
There is an age for everything and again, there isn’t.
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD., MBA
In the early nineteen sixties, as the incipient Cuban revolutionary government tightened its control of Cuban society, one that with our rapprochement or not lasts to this day, the loss of parental control over minors arose as a rumored threat. Parents worried about losing their children to an atheistic philosophy and imagined them turning against the Christian principles they had always hoped for their descendants.
Whether a controlling government was really planning to do away with those rights by law, termed parental authority, “patria potestad” in Latin societies, parents became willing to take drastic steps, including sending their children alone to the United States. They’d rather lose them through painful separation by giving them up to unknown risks than by known edicts of a Marxist government.
As a result of that nightmarish proposition, the Catholic Church in Miami, Fl, built a bridge to freedom organization that tried to protect those children. It was named “Operation Peter Pan” (Pedro Pan) which from 1960 to 1962 airlifted more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to the U.S. The Catholic Welfare Bureau and the U.S. State Department spearheaded the program and placed children in foster homes or temporary camps. Some were reunited with their families in the U.S., some weren’t, and most never went back to Cuba.
Some families didn’t have to use the Peter Pan system because they had close relatives in Florida who could become responsible for the children, so the actual number of the separated minors is anybody’s guess. My sister came alone and was cared by aunts and uncles, so she is not a counted statistic. I have known many of those children, and I can attest that their experience and their families were traumatic and lasted, still last, for a long time.
I am not trying to judge the reasons or the motivation for the decisions taken by those parents, because the motives are not necessarily related to the reactions of the children involved. All I can say is that the accusing finger of history points to the Castro government as the reason and moral responsibility for that tragedy.
Today, the images of children separations fill our television screens and our social media conversations, probably with more intensity because they are part of our political controversy. This time, of course, the reasons for the separations are different. We are looking at refugee parents from Central America who don’t hesitate taking physical risks with their offspring in order to find a better life in the United States and then find themselves separated by the immigration laws of this nation.
The motivation of the Peter Pan Cuban families of the sixties and the Central American families with no Peter Pan of these days, is different; one supported by legal rights, the other punished for legal violations, but the victims of both events were and are minor children who only need and want to be near their parents.
The risks faced by those minors are numerous. At an early age when they need not only food and shelter, but medical and psychological care as well, many of those risks could become actual hazards: weather calamities, physical or sexual abuse, bullying by other children, loneliness, the list can be long. What is clear is that society is morally responsible for the lives of those minors. We cannot blame a particular political party or a particular government body or official. As a country, America didn’t drop the Cuban minors on our shores, we just welcomed them with no questions. America didn’t drop these Central American minors on our shores either. Aren’t we capable of welcoming them with no questions asked also? I don’t say it is easy, all I am saying is that it is right.
A permanent solution to this problem today is not easier than a permanent solution for the Cuban situation of the Cuban problem was in the sixties when the United States was the only country willing and able to take those minors. The countries that could have stepped up to help those Peter Pan minors and didn’t, the other members of the Organization of American States (OAS) were the same that today expect the United States to protect the arriving Central American minors alone and do nothing themselves. But, of course, we cannot hesitate. It is up to us, the adults, to dig deeper into our moral innards and find an answer no one has imagined because we are thinking about ourselves, the grownups, and not the children, as we should.
And this is my Point of View today, one I leave in your capable hands, or are they?