By Amanda Gonzalez Garcia
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a $25 million budget to restore the Freedom Tower in Miami on Nov. 15, 2021, This building currently serves as a museum tied to Miami Dade College with nearly 3,000 pieces of art and artifacts in over 30,000 sq. feet.
Per the Museum of Art and Design at Miami Dade College, the building was established in 1925, but it wasn’t until it was leased by the government in 1962 that the tower officially housed refugees coming from Cuba.
Per the Florida government website, when divided, the $25 million will be used to:
Complete urgent structural repairs
Conserve and restore historical architectural components
Make the building more accessible for people with disabilities
Install museum-quality climate control and security systems to safeguard artifacts
Reimagine and redesign the exhibits displaying that history to make it more engaging for all ages
Over time, the previous Miami Dade College owners have maintained the building as needed, but this financial assistance will improve the restoration process for this staple of freedom and liberty.
For over 60 years, the tower has held a deep meaning to many Cubans.
From 1960 to 1962, an important operation took place known as Operation Peter Pan or Pedro Pan in Spanish. According to the Smithsonian, over 14,000 minors between ages 6 and 18 fled from Cuba to the U.S. unaccompanied to escape former Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s abusive military regime.
Through this process, the building became a processing center. From 1962 to 1974, about 650,000 refugees passed through and underwent interviews to establish their unique needs, per Daily Commercial. They were then given identification cards, medical examinations, dental care, and financial assistance.
Many had to start from scratch in a new country that spoke a different language.
To these Cubans seeking political asylum, the Freedom Tower represented hope and the beginning of new life full of opportunity.
Dr. Mariely Valentin-Llopis, a faculty member in Barry’s communication department, started to conduct research on Operation Peter Pan after coming across a poster for a seven-month exhibition about it in 2015 at the HistoryMiami Museum. The exhibition was named Operation Pedro Pan: The Cuban Children’s Exodus.
After five years of research, Llopis found that the building’s immigration operation was made possible through an alliance of church, state, and the American people in the 1960s.
Llopis believes this building can still celebrate history and be used at some level of service, like becoming a processing center.
“It's more of a celebration of a specific period of time, but it’s also a celebration of what we care about here in Miami, which is immigrants,” Llopis added.
Psychology Alumna Alissa Maria Lopez, a Cuban-American, shares the joy that the Freedom Tower signifies for her and her family in Miami.
“The Freedom Tower was transformed into a place of security and new beginnings for the Cuban people,” Lopez said. “In my home and the homes of many other Cuban families, the Freedom Tower is known as ‘El Refugio’.”
Lopez’s father spoke passionately about the building, as if it was “from a dream.”
“He would describe how his parents were so afraid of coming to this country, worried that no other place would ever be home to them,” Lopez said. “Though when they arrived, they saw this safe haven here to help them make a new home here in the United States. The building outlived my grandparents, but the hope it instilled in them is still present in so many others.”