RENO, NV - The Cuban population northern Nevada is nothing like it is in Miami. But in 1961, 39 boys from Cuba were brought to the Truckee Meadows. As the years have gone on, few stayed. We talked to one man who still lives here and got his impressions on the latest developments in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Pepe Berasain was part of Operation Peter Pan. It was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the western hemisphere. It was an effort by Cuban parents to get their kids off the island because they feared the government would indoctrinate their children.
Half the kids were reunited with relatives and friends in Florida. The other half were taken care of by Catholic Services and sent to 30 states.
That's how Pepe landed right here in the Truckee Meadows in 1961.
He's been here since, but there are hints of Berasain's origins throughout the house. Like a picture of the harbor in Havana, or his mom's law degree from Cuba.
It was she who sent her son, then 13, off the island, where he landed here in the Truckee Meadows, where Catholic Services helped place him and he saw snow for the first time.
“Well, it was kind of a change. I though it would be a temporary situation. I never expected to be in this country 50-60 years. I thought it was going to be short-term and I would go back home,” says Berasain.
Berasain says he was cared for by two foster families. He graduated from Sparks High School and UNR, and has done medical consulting work. All possible, he says, because of the United States.
“I'm pretty lucky to be here. I think here, you have the opportunity to achieve anything you want if you are willing to work for it,” says Berasain.
That's not the case in Cuba.
“We will be normalizing relations between our 2 countries,” announced President Obama Wednesday.
Berasain says he's been watching the news coverage of a change in U.S.-Cuban relations.
While he is sure it is all anyone is talking about in Little Havana down in Florida, not so much here.
“Hope there will be a change of thought. Embassy, like the ones we have all over the world. I think it makes sense to have a friendly state near us instead of having a communist state. So, I'm not sure how it will play out,” says Berasain.
Berasain says even if new policies open up Cuba to more tourism, for him there is no burning desire to get back there. He says what he remembers and what is there now are two different things.