The John Morton Center hosts "Current Issues" lectures, seminars, conferences, and workshops on the histories, societies, politics and cultures of North American nations.
The JMC strives to engage in dialogue with multiple academic, cultural, political, and ideological viewpoints. We welcome speakers from a range of different backgrounds and persuasions. The views of our guests do not represent those of the Center.
Date: September 9, 2022
Time: Friday 11:00–18:00
Seminar will consist of a documentary film screening, a visual analysis workshop, and a visiting lecture by Dr. John Gronbeck-Tedesco.
"Operation Pedro Pan: Childhood in the U.S.-Cuban Cold War"
This talk explores the history of Operation Pedro Pan, the colloquial name for the Unaccompanied Cuban Children’s Program that began in February 1961. Fearing the government of Fidel Castro, Cuban parents sent over 14,000 of their children to the United States alone. Those without immediate family support in the United States—some 8,300 minors—received group and foster care through the Catholic Welfare Bureau and other religious, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the country. As Havana and Washington dissolved their diplomatic ties, both governments issued competing claims of social betterment that centered on children and family. Each nation argued that its model of organization—socialist or capitalist—was exceptional in its ability to provide security and care for the family unit. In the United States, Cuban young people suddenly embodied two polarizing extremes: on the one hand, they were important tokens of steadfast anticommunism, while on the other they represented new controversial nonwhite exiles threatening the white-majority nation. These children became part of Cold War imperatives. The task to Americanize them belonged to the larger U.S. effort to strengthen its image as a bastion of racial plurality at a time when evidence of brutal violence of the Civil Rights Movement regularly appeared in print and on screens around the world, which undermined Washington’s credibility as a defender of democratic liberty and equality. As Pedro Pans were scattered throughout the United States—Dubuque, Iowa; San Antonio, Texas; Helena, Montana—with them came the mandate to accept and assimilate the newcomers in the name of national security and prestige.
Dr. John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco is Associate Professor of American Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He has recently published his second book, Operation Pedro Pan: The Migration of Unaccompanied Children from Castro’s Cuba (Potomac Books). His writing has appeared in American Quarterly, Journal of Latin American Studies, and Journal of American Studies, as well as the online publications Slate Magazine, Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, and a variety of others. He lives in New York City.
Further information will be available in September.