On Tuesday, President Obama presented Miami Beach residents Gloria and Emilio Estefan with this country’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — at a ceremony at the White House.
It’s quite an honor, and we all should be proud. Yes, they are celebrities. But they also are engaged, roll-up-their-sleeves members of this community.
Whether or not Ms. Estefan’s hit songs were your cup of tea or the couple’s politics are to your liking, the truth is that in their arduous ride to fame and fortune, the couple proudly carried Miami’s flag every step of the way. They pioneered the “Miami sound,” a Latin-fusion beat that spread across the world, first as the Miami Sound Machine, then as Ms. Estefan sold 100 million records as a solo artist. For that alone, the Estefans also deserve our thanks.
And if you’re a Cuban exile in South Florida, you should also be proud, for the Estefans have proudly displayed their Cuban roots. “They have promoted their cultural heritage,” Mr. Obama said as he introduced the couple.
Ms. Estefan’s parents, José Manuel and Gloria Fajardo, fled Cuba with the rise of Fidel Castro; her father later took part in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and also served in Vietnam. Ms. Estefan largely was reared by her mother in Little Havana. She couldn’t be more representative of Miami’s historic exile community.
But what makes the Estefans truly special is that they have always believed in Miami’s promise — through their songs and business ventures. They never went Hollywood.
From Emilio Estefan’s first act of civic pride, naming his young musical group the Miami Latin Boys, to the couple’s current effort to renovate and reopen the Miami Marine Stadium, they support and promote our hometown like no other celebrities have. Others, such as Madonna and Sylvester Stallone, bought homes and made Miami their headquarters — temporarily.
Gloria and Emilio Estefan are still here, believing, investing in being Miami ambassadors. Just like they were in the early years of Miami Beach’s rebirth when they jumped in and backed the first successful Cuban restaurant on South Beach, Larios, then renovated the famed Cardozo Hotel up the street.
They have been here at horrendous times for this community. In 1992, when Miami-Dade was rocked by Hurricane Andrew, the Estefans put on a star-studded benefit concert for the victims. Ms. Estefan’s singing Coming out of the Dark that day helped the community’s psychological healing begin. And too many times to count, they’ve spoken out in support of Cubans here and on the island.
They have spent millions in the local economy. Emilio Estefan has run companies, written books and helped launch other artists’ musical careers, including those of Jon Secada and Albita. He’s a dynamo, a true entrepreneur, a visionary — and a man, President Obama disclosed, who had the courage in the late 1970s to play The Hustle on an accordion and still win the girl singer’s heart.
Currently, the Estefans are showcasing the success they created in Miami in a hit Broadway play, On Your Feet. We hope it eventually will have successful Miami run.
On Tuesday, the president honored 15 other incredibly successful people, including Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Willie Mays, Stephen Sondheim and James Taylor. And on the stage with them were the Estefans, representing Miami.