News & Articles

Continuing the Conversation

by Oscar B. Pichardo, Hugo Chaviano and Elly Vilano Chovel

During the run of Sonia Flew in the Downstairs Theatre, many Pedro Pan adults attended performances and stayed to participate in the post-show discussion. The sharing of their own stories and their gracious willingness to answer questions from our audience vivified the discussion and the production. The conversation was continued by individuals who thoughtfully took the time to write to us about their experience at the theatre. This past year, in the company of family and friends, I attended a powerful performance of Sonia Flew, rekindling a myriad of emotions and memories of the day I bade my family goodbye. For my children, friends, and relatives, it brought perspective to a formative experience which is often difficult to articulate. While never resentful of my parents’ decision, the angst of separation was much too real as portrayed in the final scenes of the play. Vivid memories reprised. Hushed words of encouragement followed by tearful embraces. A whispered goodbye and I stepped through the glass doors of “la pecera” or fishbowl, as the waiting area was called, into another world. The Pedro Pan experience is as distinct as each Pedro Pan is a unique individual. If there is a symbol or defining moment in our exodus, it is la pecera. Whether we went to the camps, orphanage, or foster home, all experienced and remember la pecera. It’s where we said goodbye to our families and embarked on the unknown. It is incomprehensible to most people why parents would send their minor children unaccompanied to a foreign land - until examining the events and living conditions, portrayed by Sonia’s family, leading to the crucial decision. Against this stark reality my parents made the agonizing decision born out of love and courage. They chose freedom for their children – a decision for which I am eternally grateful! -Oscar B. Pichardo ----------------------- Watching the play Sonia Flew brought back forgotten memories of a trying period of my life. I was not a Pedro Pan child, but like the many Pedro Pan children, I left Cuba by myself at a young age. I was 13 years old then. The decision to leave, knowing I likely would never see my parents or sisters again, remains the toughest decision I have had to make in life. Like the young Sonia character portrayed in the second act of the play, I had to struggle with a quickly changing world around me after the Revolution came to power. On one side was the new reality we were dealing with, be it at school, work or socially. On the other side was our family and how we as a unit confronted this new reality. Early on in the Revolution, all private schools were nationalized by the government. As a result many, including me, found ourselves in a public school system focused on inculcating Marxist Leninist principles to a new generation of students. This new school experience came to threaten our parents’ control over their children’s education and value system. All of a sudden we were being taught to consider ourselves children of the Revolution first and of our parents second. We were to ignore those values preached by our parents which contravened revolutionary ideals, and incorporate those ideals as part of our new persona. In fact, we were encouraged to tell of any situation where our parents’ teachings contravened those of the Revolution. Sonia Flew captures some of this upheaval and state of siege during scenes wonderfully played by the cast, such as the exchange between Young Sonia and Jose when during their flirtatious interlude she confesses to hearing foreign music on her Dad’s short wave radio; the exchange between Marta and Pilar when they are discussing the kids who are leaving the country with special visas, and Marta begs Pilar to help her get one for Sonia to save her from what’s to come under revolutionary rule; the exchange between the family’s “good friend” Tito and Orfeo, when Tito comes to arrest him because the Defense Committee has learned he owns a short wave radio. Like any story told with limited time and space, it is tough not to leave parts untold. Nonetheless Sonia Flew does a heck of a job in giving the audience a taste for why Sonia is the way she is later in life. -Hugo Chaviano ----------------------- Melinda Lopez’s Sonia Flew, with sensitivity and brilliance, has produced an insight into the universal impact of family separation, war and the need to come to terms with our past. When I met Melinda last spring, I pledged to spread the word of the play so Pedro Pans could benefit from the validation of their individual experiences and the American public could become aware of this remarkable exodus of Cuban children that is not part of the United States’ History books. In a 45 minute flight from Havana to Miami, I had a metamorphosis just like Sonia. From a young, overly protected and loved daughter, I became an adult responsible for my younger sister and myself. Pilar’s character showed the dignity of the Cuban parents and the heart wrench they felt sending their children away. I was deeply moved by Zak going to Afghanistan and his close call with death. Melinda intuitively realized that many Pedro Pans relive their experience of rupture when their own children leave home. I learned first hand of the devastating consequences of war when my 25 year old Irish-American husband died while flying an Army plane in Vietnam. As one of the 15,000 Pedro Pans, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to grow up in a democracy where diversity is respected and encouraged and freedom of speech is an undeniable right. I will forever be thankful to Mons. Walsh, my mentor, for his support and understanding of our need to share, to uncover our history, forming a bond that has helped us heal and move forward. Sonia personifies the melting pot, blending her Cuban heritage with her new country, the United States of America. While 7-Up salad is not one of my favorites, I surely love pastelitos and apple pie! - Elly Vilano Chovel