Stepping into the Past
through the Eyes and Voices of Others

Originally published on September 14, 2015. Interview and photos by Giovanna Lester © 2015

A nostalgic and poignant experience


It was 1960. They said goodbye with hopes of a reunited future and with only uncertainty leading them. They made a new home, created a new history, and redesigned their futures. Memories, sadness, desire, curiosity, surprise, and shock were the substance of reality, and their mission was survival.

Operation Peter Pan is still alive in the memories of many, and it is coming to life in the hearts of many more who are touched by the new exhibit at the History Miami Museum, in downtown Miami.

ATIF is in luck because our Vice-President, Daniela Guanipa, was one of the individuals involved in bringing the exhibit Operation Peter Pan, The Cuban Children’s Exodus to life. The exhibit is a nostalgic and poignant experience for many.


(Two (2) minute video)

Q. Daniela, how did you feel when this project landed on your desk?

I could have never guessed what was in store for me when my neighbor and friend, Gaspar Gonzalez, the producer of the videos that play continuously throughout the exhibition, knocked on my door (literally) and asked if I’d be interested in doing some transcription work for him. As we sat talking about his project, I thought it would be interesting to transcribe these interviews —even though transcription doesn’t particularly appeal to me these days. But I thought, “I can use Dragon® NaturallySpeaking; I don’t have any particularly big translation project at the moment. Why not?” A month after I delivered the transcriptions, Gaspar stopped by again, this time to see if I’d be interested in subtitling the videos in Spanish. Then, a few weeks later, HistoryMiami contacted me directly to see if I could assist with the translation of the main signs and texts that visitors see as they walk around the exhibition.

I used to joke with Gaspar and Mr. Zamanillo that I’d have to add a KleenexTM surcharge to the project. Being able to see beyond the initial project and carefully gauge its potential, the fact that Gaspar is my neighbor, that the project is connected to a local organization, and that it had the potential to make an impact on our community have all been part of making this truly remarkable project a grand learning experience for me as a solopreneur.

Q. I have been to the exhibit and those 40 minutes were difficult. The amount of material I saw represented hours and hours of work. Museum doorHard work. Emotional work. How did you manage to get through all that?

You’re absolutely right. It was hard, emotional work. As a Cuban descendant, the stories I had heard numerous times from my mother and grandparents came to life again. That was all magnified by the fact that I, too, am a mother now, and hearing the accounts of these then-children and those of their parents was heartbreaking.

And, of course, opening night was absolutely amazing. Seeing all that work being displayed in an exhibition of this caliber was a first for me.

I also got to see footage that didn’t make it to the final cut, which was just as poignant. I could only work for so many hours each day on this project and then I’d have to go exercise, or simply go for a walk to unwind. I used to joke with Gaspar and Mr. Zamanillo* that I’d have to add a Kleenex™ surcharge to the project!
*(Jorge Zamanillo, Museum Director)

Q. What was the best light moment of the project?

Being able to use my Cuban lingo was definitely a perk and a rarity for me. Gaspar Gonzalez, the video producer, is a Cuban descendant as well, and we’d sit and discuss the best way to say this or that, and would reminisce on what a family member would have said in a particular context. He wanted the subtitles to have a Cuban flavor, without making it hard for Spanish-speakers from other countries to understand. I added the same flavor to the exhibition text.

And, of course, opening night was absolutely amazing. Seeing all that work being displayed in an exhibition of this caliber was a first for me. I had seen the videos and had a rough idea of the layout, but the experience of walking through the different rooms is something that cannot be described in words.

Q. So now I have to ask, what was the hardest moment of the project?

As with any transcreation project, you develop an intimate knowledge of the material, and an ability to see beyond what is said, in order to convey the message to your audience; that psychological component is what made this experience exceptionally emotional for me.

It is a unique exhibit that cannot be described. It needs to be experienced to feel the powerful story it tells. Seeing folks who could be my parents, crying like children because they were reliving their childhood experience, and even public figures being so honest about their feelings, tells me how much these experiences affected, shaped, and forever changed their lives, in ways I can only begin to imagine. When I was working on the material, I would come out of my office with teary eyes and hug and kiss my two little daughters. Seeing these accounts really changes your perspective.

Q. How do you feel knowing that thousands of people are walking through that museum and being touched by the words you chose to tell that story of fear, daring, and courage?

I feel humbled. From the very beginning, when I was just transcribing the interviews, I wanted to be a part of this project because it was close to my heart, so it was a dream come true when I was invited to play a bigger role. I am very grateful for this opportunity, both as a professional and—and perhaps more importantly—as the daughter of a Cuban exile. It is a unique exhibition that cannot be described. It needs to be experienced to feel the powerful story it tells.

The parents of the Peter Pan niños had a vision fueled by fear, strengthened by love and hope, and supported by history. Change is a constant, and in order to survive, we have to adapt, adopt, learn, use and grow. The exhibit, which runs through January 17, 2016, is a tribute to their sacrifice and strength of resolve.

decorative tile work

Daniela Guanipa

Daniela Guanipa is a freelance language consultant and translator with over 18 years of experience, specializing in biosciences, marketing, and luxury brands from English and Brazilian Portuguese into Spanish. She is the Vice-President of the Florida ATA Chapter, ATIF, and webmaster of ATA’s blog The Savvy Newcomer. For more information, and to connect, go to Twitter: @daguarez.


Gio Lester

Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester’s career in translation and interpreting started in 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations with which she is affiliated; she has created and contributed to various T&I publications, and she frequently gives presentations on T&I in the US and abroad. In 2009 she co-founded and served as the first elected president (2011-2012) of the ATA Florida Chapter, ATIF, and is the current President of its interim board. Learn more on Gio’s ATIF Profile or follow her on Twitter: @cariobana

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