El Viaje (The Journey)


Sandra Martin

Sandra Martin (left) with her niece having a good time.

Geovani Espinoza, Social Media Editor

The Pedro Pan operation was established between the Catholic church and the U.S. government. Its purpose was to help Cuban children seek asylum in the United States.

Anthony Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz took power in Cuba in 1959, six years after the start of the Cuban revolution. During this time, Operation Pedro Pan or Peter Pan was established and thousands of children were sent to the United States.

“I was looking something up on the internet and it had something to do with Cuba. It was Peter Pan and I read the article and it had a link and the article had a database of the Peter Pan kids and I saw that it had my name and my sibling’s name, ” said Sandra Martin, who was one of the Pedro Pan kids.

Martin took the journey to the United States at a very young age. She recalled the day she had left her home. Martin got up early on that impactful day that would change her life forever. Breakfast that day consisted of jelly with toast and a side of milk. She wore a blue dress with a little jacket and black shoes.

“They separated us from our parents and we could see our parents through a wall and the place was noisy, filled with kids running around and they had no idea what was going,” said Martin. “My mom and aunt were both crying and my dad had no emotion. We weren’t allowed to talk to them through the wall.”

While thousands of kids embarked on this journey alone, Martin was fortunate enough to travel with her siblings. Through their journey to the United States, Martin’s sister took the burden of becoming a mother figure for her younger siblings.

“My siblings and I sat together and the airplane took off and the steward checked in on us to check if the seat belts were buckled,” said Martin. “It was like a choir of tears we all knew that we were leaving our country and being separated from our parents.”

Martin and her siblings were some of the few children who had been reunited with their parents. The first time, she was able to see her parents months was after her journey. Years later she had the opportunity to return to Cuba.

“I went once in 1998 it was an emotional roller coaster seeing my hometown as an adult and not as a child,” Martin said. “I had waited till my dad passed away because it would have been too much for him to know that I had gone back.”

Martin is currently a Spanish teacher, teaching all levels of Spanish at Pacific Palisades Charter High School. She has completed many human rights education projects with her students in Spanish. Martin also co-sponsors the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force club at Pacific Palisades Charter High School.

“I remember meeting Sandra at one of the Student Task Force workshops, she was in charge of one of the stations and that station really stood out to me,” said Alexis Gonzalez, a senior at Da Vinci Science. “Afterward we had a conversation and she told us a quick summary of her life story and how she ended up where she was.”

Gonzalez recalls how inspiring it was to hear from someone who had taken the journey of a lifetime, leaving the conversation with more knowledge than what she had prior to Martin’s story and the difficulty of leaving home.

“There is nothing romantic about the immigrant experience, it is super hard it’s remaking yourself and I had to remake myself,” said Martin. “I was glad to be working with kids who were immigrant and who had parents who were immigrants.”