Learning to Die in Miami
Confessions of a Refugee Boy
Free Press, $26, 320 pp.
On January 1, 1959, President Fulgencio Baptista fled Cuba, ousted by the guerrilla campaign of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Six weeks later, Castro was sworn in as “Prime Minister.” In response to this Communist victory at the height of the Cold War, the United States initiated massive airlifts of Cuban children to Miami, placing them with relatives or sometimes housing them in makeshift camps. Sponsored by the U.S. government and coordinated in part by the Archdiocese of Miami, the airlifts went by the name Operation Pedro Pan. From 1960 to ’62, more than fourteen thousand children left their families for the United States. In theory their parents would join them soon, but as relations between Cuba and the United States deteriorated following the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, getting visas became difficult or impossible. An estimated two to three thousand of the airlifted children would never see their parents again.
Carlos Eire, now a professor of history at Yale, was flown from Cuba to the United States in 1962 at the age of eleven. His older brother accompanied him. The boys had seen their father for the last time; it would be years before they were reunited with their mother and by then she would seem like a stranger. Eire’s first memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana, focused on his memories of life in Cuba. Learning to Die in Miami describes his life after Pedro Pan: welcome to America, Carlos. Or is it Charles?