Jeff Bezos’ Adoptive Father Fled From Cuba To The U.S. At 16, Lived In A Refugee Camp
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos might be vying for the spot as the richest man in the world, but his story is an impressive come-up. Bezos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to teenagers Jacklyn and Ted Jorgensen, a Danish-American unicycle hockey player (moment of silence for that fact). However, his parents divorced when the future tech giant was just an infant. As fate would have it, Bezos’ mother soon fell in love with Cuban immigrant Miguel “Mike” Bezos, who adopted four-year-old Jeff as his own son. They then had Bezos’ two siblings Mark and Christina, and the rest was history.
Still, there’s a lot more to Bezos’ adoptive father Miguel Bezos than you would think. The 75-year-old emigrated from Santiago, Cuba in the early 1960s under Operation Peter Pan. This program brought 14,000 minors from Cuba from 1960 to 1962 after Fidel Castro rose to power, and unbelievably enough, Bezos’ father was one of them. The founder’s dad has spoken at length about his journey — and it’s a story that has “grit and determination” written all over it.
Everything to know about Jeff Bezos’ father Miguel Bezos’ immigration story
Back in May 2022, Jeff Bezos spoke about his father’s immigration journey at the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Awards. Talking about how immigrants fight “for a better life” and have “hardships” all in the name of finding opportunities, he took the time to talk about his dad. He explained, “[My father] came from Santiago, Cuba [at] 16… spoke no English… He had those tough experiences.”
At the time, Bezos described his father as “an intense hard worker,” yet “warm” with an “easy” smile. He also said he could “not have had a better role model” than his dad. Watch the heartwarming video here:
There’s no doubt Miguel Bezos had several tough experiences growing up. In fact, Jeff and Miguel Bezos both explained in an interview with Amazon that the 75-year-old emigrated from Cuba completely alone, leaving his parents behind in Santiago. Jeff Bezos described, “My dad was just 16 when he came to America, and not with his family. He was all by himself.”
After Fidel Castro rose to power, Bezos Sr.’s parents sent him to the U.S. “because they felt like they had to, to protect him.”
This is Miguel Bezos’ own retelling of his journey from Cuba to the U.S.
At the time, his parents owned a lumber mill, which had just been acquired by the Cuban regime. As Bezos’ father explained in an op-ed for the American Museum of Natural History, his life before immigrating was idyllic. Born in Santiago, he has “great memories” of his childhood alongside his two siblings and cousins: “It was a very busy household but full of life.”
However, although his parents “were initially supporters of Castro,” he says the dictator’s “extreme ideas for the country” led to the takeover of his family’s business. Once that happened, his parents applied to get him a U.S. visa and leave the island — even though he had “no desire” to leave to the U.S. He explained, “My parents really wanted me out because my future was very questionable if I stayed in Cuba.”
At the time, they didn’t realize it would be “a forever decision,” and thought Miguel could “come back” and reunite with them. Unfortunately, that “didn’t happen.”
It was time to leave — Miguel Bezos explained in the Amazon doc: “My parents were not allowed to go into the airport with me. So they dropped me off, I got on an airplane and landed in Miami 45 minutes later.”
As he remembers, they could only take “three of everything”: “Three shirts, three pants, three [pairs of] underwear.”
Jeff Bezos’ adoptive father was a “Peter Pan kid”
75-year-old Bezos explained in his op-ed that he was a “Peter Pan kid” who came to the U.S. along with thousands of other children under Operation Peter Pan. The minors that arrived from Cuba were sent to refugee camps, and he ended up at Miami’s Camp Matecumbe. As he described, “The purpose of the camps was to hold kids, feed them, and shelter them,” until finding permanent residence.
After his stay at the camp, Bezos and his cousin Angel were sent to Wilmington, Delaware where they attended hiigh school and lived in a house funded by a Catholic charity. As he explains it, “For us in Wilmington, we had each other, and we became very close… In the middle of all the chaos, it was a wonderful experience.”
Although he didn’t know English upon his arrival to Wilmington, he figured it out quickly. Bezos Sr. described in the doc: “You do learn the language very quickly when you’re immersed in it.”
His grades got better as he learned the language, and ended up receiving a scholarship to study at University of Albuquerque in New Mexico. Upon his move, he met Bezos’ mother Jacklyn — and Jeff Bezos when he was just a baby.
Miguel Bezos adopted the future Amazon founder and gave him his last name — making for a pretty incredible story if there ever was one.