In this episode of the StoryCorps podcast, we hear from people who were forced to flee their homes because of war, poverty, or fear of death. All three stories involve individuals who embarked on difficult journeys, but even as they found safety in their new homelands, their personal struggles continued.
In 1993, Shengqiao Chen left China—along with almost 300 other undocumented immigrants—aboard the Golden Venture, a freight ship headed for the United States. The ship ran aground on Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, and ten people drowned. Chen survived and was one of 110 people detained while seeking political asylum.
While in custody, many of Chen’s fellow prisoners became despondent and suicidal. Dr. Zehao Zhou (pictured together at left), a translator at the prison, would organize vigils outside their windows to show support and to keep their hopes alive. In 1995, Chen was paroled and allowed to remain free while seeking asylum.
Chen came to StoryCorps with Dr. Zhou to discuss the shipwreckand his time in prison.
Our next story is about Operation Pedro Pan (Operation Peter Pan), a mass exodus of Cuban children to the United States in the early 1960s sent by parents who wanted to get them out from under Fidel Castro’s regime. Over the years, 14,000 children traveled unaccompanied to Miami and one man—Jorge “George” Guarch—met nearly all of them.
Fluent in both Spanish and English, Jorge acted as an intermediary between American authorities and Cuban children (see photo in the player above). His daughter, Lynn Guarch Pardo, came to StoryCorps with Jose “Pepe” Noriega (pictured together at left), one of the children her father helped. Together they remember her father and Jose recalls the emotional toll leaving his parents and his home country took on him, and the generosity and kindness shown to him by Jorge.
Our last story is about Eric Lamet, a young Jewish boy living in Austria when the Germans annexed the country in the 1930s. Eric’s family fled to Italy but he became separated from his father and in 1948, an Italian court declared his father legally dead. His mother then remarried. Soon after, a postcard arrived from his father informing him that he was alive and living in a camp in Austria.
Eric came to StoryCorps to remember seeing his father again after believing him to be dead, and their final moments together years later.