After being commissioned to write a children’s musical based on a Latin fairy tale, Cuban-American playwright Rebecca Aparicio stumbled upon a story dubbed Operation Pedro Pan. The musical depicted the real-life history of Cuban children that were separated from their parents and taken to the United States back in the early 1960s. It’s a piece of history that seems almost too timely.
“The producers were interested in my experience as a Cuban American and I did the research but no fairy tale or story quite interested me until I came across a website about Operation Pedro Pan,” Aparicio told NBC News.
The playwright realized that she could use this bit of little known history to create a new musical that would help people learn more about fleeing life under Communist rule and the immigrant experience in America. Her musical “Pedro Pan” recently made it into the 2018 New York Musical Theater Festival and in 2015 was named one of the Top 10 Off-B’Way Shows, drawing comparisons to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work with “In The Heights.”
Aparicio’s musical tells the story of a young boy named “Pedro” who was one of thousands of children whose parents sent them to America alone via Catholic Charities between 1960 and 1962, and had to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture without the guidance and support of their families. At the time, many people feared for the safety of their children in post-Revolutionary Cuba and had to make the choice between protecting them and raising them themselves.
While an estimated 14,000 Cuban children involved in Operation Pedro Pan were not forcibly separated from their parents like the children that have been detained at the U.S. border this year, it’s impossible not to draw parallels between the events of nearly 60 years ago and those of today. It’s no surprise that “Pedro Pan” is starting to gain national attention and pick up big-city traction, and Aparicio hopes that the musical will help draw more empathy for those seeking asylum in the U.S.
“We can be at odds about immigration law and not be at odds about children being separated from their families. However you feel about immigration law, I totally validate that and we can have a discussion about it,” Aparicio said to NBC News.