The Museum of Art + Design (MOA+D) at Miami Dade College (MDC) and the Miami Herald Media Company have partnered to organize and curate “The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom“, a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro’s rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States. Having covered the Cuban exile community and its struggle for freedom extensively throughout the years, Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald Media Company now present this journalistic chronology, which showcases the spirit and accomplishments of the Cuban American community. The exhibition is housed at the College’s National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower, itself central to the story of Cubans in the United States.
The exhibit honors this building, which opened its doors in 1925 as the home of one of the city’s oldest newspapers, The Miami Daily News. In 1962, five years after the newspaper found a new home by the Miami River, the U.S. Government leased the tower to process the growing number of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Cuba between 1962 and 1974. “The building is significant because it represents the important story of the Cuban exodus to America and resettlement during the Cold War,” reports the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has also called the Freedom Tower the “Ellis Island of the South.” To help preserve this chapter in the history of the Freedom Tower, some exiles have made touching donations of personal ephemeras for the exhibition such as U.S. Cuban Refugee Center Identification cards, food ration cards, the dolls some refugee girls held for comfort, even clothes worn the day they walked through these doors for the first time.
The second part of the exhibition is an account of Operation Pedro Pan, the largest exodus of children in the Western Hemisphere. Operation Pedro Pan spirited 14, 048 Cuban children to the United States alone, without their parents, who wished to rescue them from communist indoctrination ordered by Fidel Castro in all Cuban schools. Under the auspices of the Catholic Church and the U.S. Government, the boys and girls steadily arrived in Miami from 1960 until October 1962. They were met at Miami International Airport by Jorge Guarch, an employer of the Catholic Welfare Bureau, who drove the children to the local camps like Matacumbe, in Florida City and Kendall. Many remained in Miami staying with relatives: others were relocated to foster homes, orphanages, and group homes in other parts of the country. The clandestine effort to get children out of Cuba ended in October with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the halting of commercial flights. Many children had to wait to be reunited with their parents and many were never were to see their parents again.
The Freedom Tower has become an icon representing the faith that democracy brought to troubled lives, the generosity of the American people and a hopeful beginning that assured thousands a new life in a new land.