Operation Pedro Pan Over the Life Course

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This dissertation examines the short- and long-term psychosocial effects of unaccompanied childhood migration over the life course of individuals who participated in Operation Pedro Pan. This program, in which over 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban children migrated by plane to the U.S. between 1960 and 1962 to flee the Fidel Castro regime, resulted in the separation of thousands of Cuban families for periods ranging from a few months to permanent separation. Operation Pedro Pan, a singular historical event, serves as a case study for investigating the implications of unaccompanied child migration on families over the life course.

In this study, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 participants in Operation Pedro Pan, and thematic analysis was used to systematically identify meaningful patterns across participant responses. The main research questions, framed by life course perspective and family resilience framework, investigated the influence of this event on the migrants’ family roles and expectations, family decision-making, parenting style, family communication, family transition, and integration into the U.S. as unaccompanied immigrant minors. This is the first study to examine Operation Pedro Pan from an outsider perspective. This dissertation is also unique in that it utilized the life course perspective and family resilience framework to investigate the experience of unaccompanied immigrant minors.

The principal finding of this study is that shared Cuban family values were crucial to participants’ families’ ability to adapt to their new circumstances in the U.S. after separation of several months to several years. These shared family values likely allowed participants, their siblings and parents to be flexible in their roles and successfully adapt to living in a new country after an unexpected migration. Additionally, this research provides further evidence that the local community and the different types of support that it can provide to a newly arrived immigrant or refugee family can be essential to their acculturation process.