Latin music superstar, mother and now a grandmother—here’s her take on love, life and faith.
- Posted on Mar 18, 2013
My husband, Emilio, and I have been happily married for 34 years. But now there’s a new man in my life and he’s stolen my heart. Okay, okay...he’s my grandson, Sasha! He’s 10 months old and he’s made me the proudest abuela you’ve ever seen (my cell phone is filled with the photos to prove it!).
I’ve been thinking about what kind of person my grandson will grow up to be. And I’ve thought about my own journey too. I’m a positive person—someone who looks forward instead of in the rearview mirror. But it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had my ups and downs (I’ll get to those).
There are certain values that have helped me get on my feet—literally! (I’ll get to that too.) Values I’ve passed on to our two children, Nayib (Sasha’s dad) and Emily, and I’d like to pass on to Sasha.
It’s my prayer that what I’ve learned will help him live his best life, one that is full of immeasurable blessings. I hope they do the same for you. Viva la vida!
Help However You Can
I grew up with two wonderful role models who taught me the importance of giving: my mom and her mother, my grandma Consuelo. They gave fully of themselves—cooking meals for friends in need, volunteering tirelessly at church and keeping their neighborhood clean.
It’s because of their inspiration that I founded the Gloria Estefan Foundation to help local charities and disadvantaged children. But there are things to be done on a smaller scale too.
One day when Nayib was about nine, we were walking along the beach and we spotted a few soda cans in the sand. I picked them up and threw them in a trashcan. “Mom, those aren’t ours,” Nayib said innocently.
I explained to him that if we didn’t preserve the environment it wouldn’t be there for us in the future. Something Mom and Grandma knew. “Besides,” I added, “maybe someone is watching us and will be inspired to help clean up too.”
Nayib and I ended up combing every inch of that beach, making sure there wasn’t a bit of trash left. It’s something he’s kept up to this day. All of our small individual acts can add up to big positive change.
The Power of Prayer Is Real
I knew God was real, but when people talked about “the power of prayer” it seemed so mysterious. Was it something they actually felt? I didn’t understand. But I wanted to.
Then, on a snowy night, March 20, 1990, in northeastern Pennsylvania, my tour bus was slammed by a semitrailer. The impact threw me to the floor, breaking my back in two places (one more millimeter and my spinal cord would have been severed).
I was rushed to Scranton’s Community Medical Center. The doctor, Dr. Ramirez, spoke kindly. “First I’m going to tell you what science says, which is that you may not walk again.” He paused. “However...you play a big part in your recovery.” God, if I have anything to do with it, I’m going to walk again.
The hospital set up a command center for the flood of phone calls and thousands of cards (I read every single one). There were even people on their knees praying in the lobby. From my hospital bed I felt a rush of energy unlike anything I’d felt before. It was as if I’d been plugged into the wall and electrified.
Then it hit me: This was the power of prayer! I was feeling it!
I had surgery to fuse two eight-inch steel rods to my spine. It was uncertain how much mobility I’d have afterward. Rehab was grueling. But each time I wanted to give up I called on the power of those prayers—visualizing each one going straight to my spine, healing me.
Emilio was incredible. He helped me inch forward, step by painful step, until finally I was able to walk on my own.
Three months after the accident I wrote “Coming Out of the Dark” as a thank-you to everyone who’d lifted me up in prayer. Just one year after the accident I walked onstage at the American Music Awards in Miami and performed the song. Dr. Ramirez was in the audience, next to my mom.
“I was inside your back,” he said. “And you shouldn’t have been up there. It’s a miracle.” That’s what the power of prayer is all about.
I might not have been born singing, but music was a part of my life from the moment I came into the world. My mother is the real diva in our family (she won a contest to dub Shirley Temple’s movies into Spanish!) and my father’s family included a famous flautist and a classical pianist.
When I was two, I started talking and singing.
Around that time, Castro took control of Cuba. My parents fled to Miami and moved us into a tiny apartment behind the Orange Bowl. My father joined the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion and was captured and jailed in Havana. Every day until his release, two years later, I was terrified for his safety.
Music became my escape. I sat in my room with my guitar, singing and playing for hours. I didn’t shed a tear. Music was my way of crying.
My father came back to the U.S. and joined the Army. He served in Vietnam. Exposure to Agent Orange left him disabled and in a wheelchair. Slowly, he lost his memory too.
As a teen I helped take care of him and my little sister, Becky, while Mom worked as a teacher. It broke my heart to see my strong, handsome father falling apart.
I focused on school, especially music class—my favorite. One day, my senior year, we had a guest speaker: Emilio Estefan of the Miami Latin Boys. He heard a few of us sing, and I thought that was that.
A few months later Mom took me to a wedding and Emilio was performing. He remembered me from that day at my school and said, “Come sing a few songs with us.” I was nervous as anything but I went for it.
Performing transported me to a place where there was no worry, no sadness. “You light up out there,” Emilio said. “The crowd loves you.” Soon I was part of the band, now called the Miami Sound Machine...and Emilio and I fell in love. (I will be forever grateful that my dad lived to see us married.)
I’ve seen the healing power of music in the lives of others too. After one of my concerts I saw a man sitting with his wife, her head scarred and shaved.
“I just want you to know the impact that your song ‘Coming Out of the Dark’ had,” the man said. “My wife was in a car accident and fell into a coma.
"They advised me to disconnect her from life support but I thought, ‘Well, Gloria had a miracle, maybe I can have one too.’ So I bought your song and played it constantly in her room.”
Three months later his wife woke up singing my song (probably because she wanted to hear something else!). But there she was. Alive. Music heals. It’s prayer with notes.
Remember Your Roots
I love this country. For me, the beauty of the United States is that you can become a citizen and still stay true to your heritage. My parents made sure we spoke Spanish and English, and that’s something Emilio and I did with Nayib and Emily too.
And then there’s traditional Cuban food! Every Sunday we gather at my mom’s for dinner. One story she likes to tell is about Grandma Consuelo.
Grandma left Cuba with my grandfather when she was 56 years old. They rented a small house with a backyard facing a little ballpark in Miami. Grandma believed that if you do what you love, people will love what you do. And her love was cooking.
One day, she made croquetas, tamales and pan con lechón (Cuban pork sandwiches) and put them in a shopping cart. She pushed the cart to the ballpark. Everyone was drawn to the delicious smells coming from Grandma’s food, and the very first day, she sold out!
Her business grew and she catered weddings, quinces (fifteenth birthdays) and other occasions, doing all the cooking herself. After Emilio and I were blessed with success, we opened Larios on the Beach, a Cuban restaurant in Miami, as a way to honor Grandma Consuelo and share the food we love with everyone.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
It might be hard to believe, but I used to be pretty shy! It took me a good 10 years to get comfortable being onstage and to express how I felt (you can tell by some of my early stage outfits that I didn’t say no to anyone, especially my stylist).
That’s why I tell my kids, “Don’t be afraid to stand up and say exactly what you feel. Be honest. Be fearless! Because you know something? When you’re dealing with the truth from the get-go, people have to take it or leave it.”
Like the time Emily was a sophomore in high school. She was a star on the basketball team and in the jazz band. Basketball practice was two to three hours a day, including Saturday, then there was band practice. By the time she got home the poor girl was too fried to study hard!
She had an A average but it was slipping. Fast. One day she confided in me, “I really want to quit basketball to focus on my grades and band...but I’m afraid. What if I let down Coach or my teammates get mad at me?”
“It’s good that you care about their feelings, but you need to tell your coach how you feel,” I said. “If you get to the point where you’re not happy playing basketball, that’s when you’re going to let them down.”
It took a lot of guts, but Emily talked to her coach and teammates, who completely understood. Her grades went back up (she got a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston... I’m her mom, I have to brag a little!) all because she let her voice be heard.
No matter who Sasha grows up to be (of course, if you ask me, he’s going to be a rock star), his life will be centered by love, music, faith and family...including the proudest abuela there ever was.
Download your FREE ebook, A Prayer for Every Need, by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale