Cuban family details journey to successful life in Tampa
TAMPA (FOX 13) - Every day is a packed day for the Perez family. Brothers Don and Bernard are ophthalmologists and their sister, Maggie, runs their office.
Their family is brimming with success. The youngest brother, John, is also a physician.
To understand their drive for success, you'll need to look back at a photo taken in 1960. They were a well-to-do family in Cuba. The patriarch of the family, their dad, was a physician.
But things were changing and Fidel Castro was taking over. The Perez parents knew they had to do something. What happened next might be hard to imagine, but they all believe it saved their lives.
"It was very difficult and we were leaving our parents for the first time, not knowing if we would ever see them again, as we said our goodbyes for America," Bernard said.
The parents put their three sons, ages 3, 4 and 5, on an airplane bound for the United States, not knowing for sure who would be there to greet them.
"When I recall my brothers and I walking and holding hands," John said.
They were part of what became known as the Peter Pan Operation. A total of 14,000 young Cuban children came to America because their parents all wanted to get them away from communism.
"It was the best and right thing to do. Catholic Charities put together visas to save these kids," Don said.
The three little boys lived with cousins in Miami until their mom and sister joined them two years later.
A year after that, a miracle. Their father escaped Cuba on a raft and made it to American soil. Maggie was so young, but still remembers the day vividly.
"There was no communication, no phone calls and we had no idea we would ever see my father again," Maggie said. "(It was) a dream come true. We prayed everyday for our to be family reunited again."
The Perez family eventually moved to Tampa and they, along with so many other of the "Peter Pan Children," have gone onto be be hugely successful, and thankful that they were able to grow up in America.
"We are blessed. It made us who we are. Grew up quickly. Gave us strength," Bernard said.
"I want my childrens' generation to realize nothing is forever and given. Everything has to be earned," Don said.