From Cuba with Love
The Story of a Peter Pan Kid
National Association for Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC)
, Operation Peter Pan was born of fear and the human instinct to protect children.
From Cuba with Love
The timing is perfect for what is happening here in America.
It brings tears to your eyes and pride to your heart to see someone from a challenging situation able to turn their lives into a success story.
Sent to the United States on January 6, 1961 by his parents at the age of 9, Manuel had the good fortune to at least get brought out to the United States by his aunt. Nevertheless, in the intervening years before his mother, sister, and grandmother were able to get out and come to the United States his father had passed away. His early years here were difficult ones as his aunt’s brother was very opposed to encouraging Manuel’s interest in the arts and Manuel was forced to go out to a barn to practice and study violin. He progressed quickly and went to the university at the age of 16 on a full scholarship. By the time he was 21 he had earned a Ph.D. from NYU and become a college professor. He earned his living as a symphony orchestra conductor and became recognized for his work with youth orchestras. But, his love of acting as a child never left him and he sought out acting opportunities and played roles such as that of the King in Once Upon a Mattress, while serving as Dean of Arts and Humanities at Oklahoma Community College. When immigrant children were being separated from their parents during the Trump years, Manuel felt compelled to tell “his” story in support of those children. With the current exodus and the separation of families in Ukraine, this recurring immigrant theme is as poignant and relevant today is it was in 1961. In addition, Manuel’s estrangement from his parents was also a direct result of Russia’s influence on Cuba during the 1960’s. The show, The Story of a Peter Pan Kid, had its premiere in October of 2019 in a sold out showcase in Orlando which got a standing ovation and the show was immediately booked the next morning. With an expansive record of accomplishments, including winning the Mary Beth Treen Award from South Arts, and 2 Fulbright Scholar Appointments, Manuel’s services and expertise as a performing artist, administrator and educator have been utilized by organizations for some 40 years in the United States, Austria, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Israel, Chile, Columbia, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Israel, and the Far East.
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The wonderful thing about art is you never know when, how, or what it will inspire.
I came to this showcase at the inaugural MAX conference for no particular reason other than my schedule was light, I knew Manuel, so I decided to sit and see his show. I had no expectations. I left the showcase with a new sense of wonder, interest, inquisitiveness, curiosity, indignation, and some great ideas for new socially conscious and informative work!
Manuel’s story documents the journey of the ‘Peter Pan Kids’, a history many remember that relocated Cuban children across the globe to escape the murder and mayhem of Fidel Castro’s regime. The poignancy of Manuel's tale: a 9-year-old boy ripped from a loving successful family for his own good and thrust into a harsh, unforgiving, and unfamiliar world, unsupportive of a child’s interest in music. Despite opposition, he thrived, and ultimately lived a dream only few wonder about, yet alone achieve. The rarity of his profession (an orchestra conductor!) coming from what many would call a ‘non-traditional background’, is testament to the spirit that resides in us all. When you take into consideration the political aspects of his story - the atrocities of a dictator, the desperation and depravity of the ‘everyday man’ seeking to only survive - it is powerful and visceral, a mind trip of theatrical proportions. Only this was real. And there are many other such stories walking among us.
You can still see that 9-year-old as the now matured man passes this oral history with love, humor, and honesty. “From Cuba with Love” is a great evening of theater that will stay with you and inspire you, for all the right reasons.
Phyllis Rush, 7/24 Talent Marketing
In his one-man show, From Cuba with Love - The Story of a Peter Pan Kid, Manuel Prestamo does a wonderful job helping us feel what it must have been like for him as a young boy taken from his homeland and re-settled in Florida, with his aunt. At first, they thought it was just a temporary move, sort of like a long, strange vacation. When would they return to Havana? When would Manuel see his family again? But it ended up being a change for life. Prestamo was part of the Operation Peter Pan program, created by the Catholic Church and the U.S. State Department to rescue families from Cuba. Ironic that the program and Prestamo's one-man show is called "The Story of a Peter Pan Kid." Peter Pan was a lifelong, playful boy. Prestamo's boyhood was cut short as he dealt with the very adult feelings of loss and longing.
Vicki Quade, Nuns4Fun
From Cuba with Love is a moving story of our times. It's a must see for today's generation to explore the little-known history of Peter Pan kids. Manuel's stirring narration of his life story, which moves from Cuba to Miami, is a testament to resilience, culture and the enduring bond of family love. The performance I attended touched the heart of every audience member and earned a standing ovation. I highly recommend this show to all audiences.
Vitaly Beckman, An Evening of Wonders, Vancouver, Canada
Everyone needs to hear Manuel Prestamo’s story as told by the Maestro himself. His personal journey offers the world a lesson about grit and the power of the arts to transform lives.
Edward Schoelwer, Red Shell Management
Operation “Peter Pan” was a mass exodus of over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors to the US between 1960 and 1962. The kids got letters from their parents in Cuba but lived for years without their parents and many of them went on to accomplish great things. Father Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Welfare Bureau created the program to provide air transportation to the United States for Cuban children and then care for them. This is the story of one such “kid” and what it was like to come to America and navigate the world of the performing arts. There are poignant, tearful, terrifying, and comical peaks and valleys. Audiences love to see and hear Dr. Manuel Prestamo tell his story of a Peter Pan Kid. This is a timely theater piece of real drama that is relevant to our current world of massive migration and refugees fleeing to other countries. Dr. Prestamo is a veteran performing artist with various performances all over the world. The initial showcase performance of this work had the audience crying, laughing, and got a standing ovation, which is practically unheard of for such events. The show started getting booked the very next morning!