Music downloading upended the industry, bleeding millions in profit for many in the business.
Emilio Estefan was no exception.
But Estefan, who came from Cuba at the age of 14, faced the new adversity doing what he had done myriad times in his life — he shifted gears, got started on new chapters in his life, and reinvented himself.
“We used our corporation to be consultants to other corporations like Target, we worked on conventions, we’re doing a film, a drama series for network television, and a Broadway musical,” said the award-winning musician and producer in an interview with Fox News Latino.
"At the beginning people wanted Gloria and I to change our names, they said our music was ‘too Latino,’ they wanted us to be less Latino. We said ‘No.’ We were not going to suppress who we were.”
- Emilio Estefan
These days Estefan, 60, is also an AARP ambassador and spokesman for the organization’s “Life Reimagined,” a public service campaign and online guide for helping people in their 40s, 50s and beyond chart a new course in life.
It is a role, Estefan said, that comes naturally to immigrants, who, by definition, often must recreate themselves when they build a new life in their adopted homeland.
“As a kid who came at 14, not knowing the language, or the culture, and being poor, I had to reinvent myself,” Estefan said.
“Many immigrants also do it, they put aside the dreams or plans they had,” he said, “the things they did in their native countries, to work many jobs so their kids can have a better life.”
That is why, Estefan said, he did not hesitate to jump on board when earlier this year AARP discussed the campaign with him and asked if he wanted to be part of it.
“The campaign struck a chord with me,” he said, “reimagining my life is something I’ve done many times over the decades.”
Estefan is hardly resting on his laurels – he’s a millionaire many times over, owns seven successful restaurants and other ventures.
He’s got 19 – yes 19 – Grammy awards.
One of his favorite projects-in-the-making is a Broadway musical that he expects to see the curtain rise on in two years.
The show is about his life with his wife, fellow Cuban immigrant Gloria, with whom he has been married for 37 years.
“It will be totally Latino,” he said. “It will be a story that will speak to a Latino audience. It will tell the story of our struggles at first, all the rejections we encountered, how we persevered, the success, the concerts. Toward the end, when it gets to the success part, there will be a lot about Gloria and her music. It will feel like a music club in the theater.”
Estefan’s advice to those reimagining life – or who are in a rut – is not to listen to naysayers.
“Many times I heard discouraging words from people who learned about ideas I had for music, for starting a restaurant,” he said.
"At the beginning people wanted Gloria and I to change our names, they said our music was ‘too Latino,’ they wanted us to be less Latino,” he said. “We said ‘No.’ We were not going to suppress who we were. We were going to forge ahead being Cuban, being Latin, doing what we loved and believed in.”
Even the restaurants they wanted to open met with skepticism.
“We were told they’d be flops.”
Their Bongo’s restaurant in Disney World is the most successful one in the tourist park, he said.
One of the worst moments for Gloria and Emilio was when in 1990 a tour bus carrying the couple and their son Nayib became involved in a serious accident, colliding with a juggernaut on a Pennsylvania highway.
Gloria was nearly crippled and underwent a long and arduous rehabilitation.
“Just before the crash I put on a movie, stretched out on the couch, made sure our son was in his bunk and fell asleep,” she told reporters then. “Then the bus stopped suddenly, I opened my eyes. There was a terrible explosion. Then I was on the floor. Then it went eerily quiet.”
“I knew I had broken my back because I felt a searing pain in my spine," she went on. "I called for Emilio, who had been sitting by the driver, but only his tennis shoes remained. He'd been knocked out of them to the back of the bus.”
Emilio Estefan said he thought “Why is this happening to us? We’ve worked hard all our lives. We went through hell.”
But Gloria was determined not to give in to the thought of being paralyzed all her life, he said.
It took reimagining. Life, for an indefinite time, would mean working hard to heal her body.
“She trained seven hours a day, in the pool,” he said. “She never ever complained. She said ‘My son is alive, he’s O.K.’”
A year later she was back on stage, dancing up a storm. “Mental power, determination, are incredible,” Estefan said.
Estefan says he never stops reinventing himself. That is why, he says, he and Gloria are still going strong as a couple.
“Listen, in order to stay married 37 years, you have to reinvent yourself every day,” he said, laughing.
“There has to be a strong foundation of love, you have to get married crazy in love, and then keep it going with respect for each other and strong communication.”
“You have to do things for the other person you wouldn’t even do for yourself, you want to please them, you want to make them happy.”
And keep doing those little hokey things people do when dating, he said.
“I leave her notes, saying ‘I love you.’”
And she reciprocates.
In texts she sent while he was in New York on the AARP campaign, Gloria said she missed him, hoped he’d slept wonderfully, and that she was eager to hear his voice.
“I love you,” she signed it.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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