One of the world’s largest, unprecedented in history political exodus of unaccompanied minors happened barely fifty five years ago, right at our back door, from Cuba to South Florida. Called “Operation Pedro Pan” and kept in secrecy for many years, for fear of political retributions to those families who remained in Cuba, it brought over 14,000 Pedro Pan kids, as they became known, fed them, housed them, sent them to school, and acted in loco parentis with the hope that soon they would reunite with their parents. Based on the same concept, shared by both the Catholic Welfare Bureau and the American government, Pedro Pan kids were allowed to be placed in foster homes, but not available for adoption. They were waiting for their parents!
This documentary, authorized by Robert Kennedy, reveals a touching perspective into the Operation Pedro Pan (this is Part 1, but Part II is also available on youtube). Even though it was a brainchild of Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, then the Director of Catholic Welfare Bureau, and as such, it was organized and run by the Catholic Charities, some of the children were Protestant, Jewish, or coming from families of non-believers, as they stated. All children were equally cared for, with no distinctions. You’ll be happy to know that about 50 % of them did eventually reunite with their families (www.historymiami.org, http://www.historyofcuba.com). Among those lucky ones were two teenage girls, my “amiga Cubana” (Cuban friend) and her sister.
Now in their 70th, they’ve built lives for themselves, worked, married, raised families, and barely had time to reminisce about their Pedro Pan experience. Perhaps not only time, but also inclination, since my friend hardly ever mentions her Cuban heritage. She did make an exception, though, when I served the traditional Cuban arroz con frijoles negros – rice with black beans. She said that my black beans were better that any Cuban would make. What did I put in them? Flattered out of my wits, I confessed that there was a secret.
You can see my secret right behind the beans! In Cuba, they cook with beer, but in Odessa, we cook with wine. Most traditional Cuban dishes, such as Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Yellow Rice) and even Paella, are cooked with beer. First I cook the beans (actually I usually precook a large batch, then portion them out and freeze them together with liquid they had been cooked in). Then I simply simmer them with cilantro, diced tomatoes, squeezed garlic, and light sweet red wine.
I season them with salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon, and add a little olive oil. They need to be stirred once in a while and cooked until literally bursting apart. In the traditional Cuban way, rice and beans are served separately, and you fill your plate on your own, topping rice with beans and finding your own proportion.
Before becoming a staple of Cuban cuisine, rice with black beans was known in Spain as Moros y Cristianos – the Moors and the Christians, referring to the dark-skinned Muslim Moors and the white Christians. The enmity between the two was presumably the reason for keeping them apart on the table. I don’t have this issue, however, as I use brown rice, in keeping with the Cuban attitude towards skin colors: diversity is beautiful, morenas (dark-skinned ladies) are beautiful, life is beautiful, music is beautiful, baile – let’s dance! And inasmuch as mi amiga cubana doesn’t like to talk about having been a Pedro Pan kid, her eyes sparkle every time when she sees arroz con frijoles negros on my table.
- 1 1/2 cup cooked or frozen black beans (1 cup dry or 1 can) with liquid
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
- 1 – 2 large garlic cloves, squeezed
- 1/4 cup light sweet red wine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- A dash of cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups cooked brown rice (1 cup uncooked)
- Bring beans to boil, add the rest of ingredients, except rice. Simmer until very tender. Stir occasionally.
- Cook rice according to directions.
- Serve separately.