Operation Pedro Pan: Cuban Children’s Experience of Alienation, Race, and Transnational Identity in the Cold War United States

Presentation author(s)

Kaija Groom ’20, Brooklyn, New York

Major: History
Minor: Religious Studies


My research investigates the experiences of assimilation among unaccompanied Cuban children who were brought to the United States through Operation Pedro Pan. Operation Pedro Pan was a U.S. government, CIA, and Catholic Welfare Bureau backed operation that resulted in 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban children being airlifted from Cuba to the U.S. between 1960 and 1962. The operation was a result of Cold War tensions and of the inherent politicalization of children.

The Cuban government’s efforts to control children and to make them a central part of the revolution, along with U.S. government agencies’ involvement in propaganda, led to the politicalization of children and Operation Pedro Pan.

In this paper I use the theories of alienation and transnationalism to examine the experiences of Pedro Pan children’s assimilation into the U.S., and I argue Cuban children who migrated to the U.S. through Operation Pedro Pan became trapped in a cycle of alienation in which they struggled to establish their identities as both Cubans and Americans. Furthermore, I argue that race both allowed for Cuban children to be admitted into the U.S. and amplified their alienation.

The research for and writing of this paper was completed in Fall 2019, within the context of “Advanced Topics in Immigration History,” a history capstone taught by Beatrice McKenzie. This paper was written in the context of today’s treatment of Latin American child immigrants and is meant to encourage readers to compare the experiences of Pedro Pans with the experiences of modern day child immigrants from Latin America.


Beatrice McKenzie

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