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In 1925, my parents and I disembarked in Miami after a three-day train trip from Chicago, and went to stay at a cottage surrounded by a grapefruit grove that belonged to my mother’s aunt. I was three years old, and it marked the beginning of my nearly nine-decade-long adventure in South Florida.
This story, as told by Marcos Oliveira, is part of an oral history series.
My experience here in Miami has shown me that here you have the opportunity to make relationships with many kinds of people. This gives you ample possibility to be flexible with people and at the same time with yourself.
Why? Well at the same time that you’re at a meeting, you can sit in a table with someone that’s from Colombia, another from Venezuela, another from Chile, another from here in Miami, another from Europe. Then you have to maintain a dialogue with those kind of people.
My Miami story began the day my KLM flight touched down from Cuba at Miami International Airport.
I was traveling alone in 1961 at the age of 11. I was going to some unknown destination, which turned out to be an orphanage in Colorado, arranged by Operation Pedro Pan. I was reunited with my mother and two younger sisters almost two years later in Miami (we were some of the lucky ones).
When I arrived in Miami in the early 1970s, I never could imagine that I would end up calling this city home.
We came to Miami after a short stay in Spain. I came with my parents, Isabel and Ramon Santos, and my younger sister, Ana. Like many young children, we were excited about moving into a new place, learning a new language and making new friends.
My maternal grandparents, Sam D. and Ida Ellen Roberts Johnson, were born in Harbour Island, Bahamas. It is believed that their foreparents were among the millions of black slaves forced from West Africa and sold in the West Indies.
My father, Ernest Peyton Jones, worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was his campaign manager for the southeastern United States and became the associate commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration. My mother, Betty Schwab Jones, was the secretary for Sen. George Norris of Nebraska. They married in 1936 and lived in Washington.
I can imagine my dad's excitement leaving gritty Newark behind him and hitting the highway in his old Studebaker bound for paradise . . . Miami Beach. I can see the bathing suit postcards guiding his way and hear the ocean calling his name: M-I-L-T-O-N B-R-A-N-D, come on down!
Our family came from Havana, a beautiful city that some have called a tropical paradise.
My brothers and I came to Miami on a Pan American flight and were taken to a campground that the Pedro Pan organizers had set up in Kendall, near where Town & Country Mall now stands. We were there for about two weeks before being sent to Albuquerque, N.M., where we were taken in by the family of Dr. Eugene Purtell.