“We will be forever thankful to our gay fans for being so supportive and open from the very beginning,” says Gloria Estefan. “The first people who took a chance on ‘Conga’ were the DJs in gay clubs.”
Estefan credits one such DJ, Pablo Flores of Puerto Rico, for giving the Miami Sound Machine, the band she led alongside her fellow Cuban-American husband Emilio Estefan in the 1980s, its first international hit, courtesy of his remix of “Dr. Beat.”
“And I continue to respect and love the community, even more so now that my daughter came out,” she continues, referring to 27-year-old Emily Estefan. “She grew up knowing how supportive I was of the gay community, but still, it was tough for her to come to Emilio and me and just say what was in her heart.”
Emily recounted her coming-out experiences in 2020, in a dramatic, remarkably honest episode of the Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk: The Estefans.
“That was hairy, because Emily was very raw at that moment,” says Estefan. “And we didn’t discuss it beforehand, because we wanted it to be natural. I wish that the whole two-hour conversation could have been aired…. There were a lot of important things that were said there that I wish would have come out. No pun intended.”
Not even a thirty-second excerpt from the edited episode would pass muster in schools in the Estefans’ home state of Florida, with the recent passage into law of what became known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“It’s so ridiculous, it’s so terrible,” Estefan says. “They may not say that — ‘Don’t say gay’ — in the actual wording [of the law], but it’s implied. If you can’t discuss same-sex relationships before third grade — do you know how many kids have same-sex parents? You’re telling them that that’s lesser than, or that they should keep quiet about it. It’s very, very frustrating. It’s a political thing.
“And just like a lot of the political circus that we’ve seen in the past few years, it’s very disturbing to the vast majority of us in the state. There’s a petition going around that Emilio and I have signed already.
“We’ve gone through a pandemic,” she continues. “People have post-traumatic stress. We have another possible world war on our [hands]. It’s just very scary times. We’ve lost a million people in the United States with COVID. People weren’t able to be with their loved ones at the moment that they were most needed. It’s been a rough time. So to pile on, it’s just unconscionable to me. It’s tough, very depressing, and we need to stand up against it.”
To those looking for some solace or comfort during today’s trying times, whatever the cause, Estefan recommends turning to music.
“Music has been a healing force in my life throughout,” says the 64-year-old icon. “I went through some hell, in different ways, as a kid, and then later with my dad being ill. And what got me through it was listening and singing other people’s music, locked up in my room. That’s how I would cry. I would sing, and my tears would come out, and I would let it all out. And I used other people’s words to not feel so alone. And that’s the beauty of music.
“So, for us,” she adds, “the important thing is to continue to put positive things out into the world, to balance the things that we all experience that are tough and negative and difficult to get through.”
One way she’s working to do that is through a new project currently underway with her daughter. “Emily and I are working on something — it’s secret now, but it is absolutely new music. Hopefully it’ll be out by September.”
Estefan has also dedicated much of her time recently to On Your Feet!, the hit musical about the pioneering Latin pop power couple that debuted on Broadway in 2015. The show has since toured the country and popped up in adaptations around the world, including versions in Dutch, German, Japanese, and now, with GALA Theatre’s On Your Feet! La Historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan, Spanish.
Earlier this month, Gloria and Emilio Estefan came to D.C. to catch the Spanish adaptation, directed by Luis Salgado, who was an actor in the show’s Broadway run. Reached the day before seeing the show, Gloria said, “What excites me about Louis’s production [is that] we’re going to see it in a really intimate setting. I know he’s had to rethink a lot of it. And to hear it in our native tongue is going to bring a whole different feeling to the show.”
Gloria worked with Salgado to translate a few show numbers into Spanish, and she tapped Esmeralda Azkarate-Gaztelu, who works in film and TV translation in Spain, to translate Alexander Dinelaris’s original book.
“I picked her because she’s a huge talent who also happens to have loved our music and followed our career for years,” she says. “I think that she has taken extra special care and has [applied] an understanding that someone who didn’t live for decades listening to our music might not have done.”
“I get emotional at some point in every single performance that we’ve seen,” she says. “They always wrench the tears out of us somehow.” In conceiving and developing On Your Feet, Estefan says, “What we intended was what we did with our music: to try and inspire people, unite people, cross bridges, and celebrate the contributions of immigrants in this country and the American dream, which we’ve certainly lived.
“It’s incredibly important to us for the musical to inspire people,” she concludes, “because that was the whole purpose of us ever doing it at all.”
On Your Feet! runs through June 5 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW.
Performances are in Spanish with English subtitles.
Tickets are $35 to $65.
Call 202-234-7174 or visit www.galatheatre.org.
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