Almost overnight, Gloria Estefan has gone from darling of the Cuban-American community to an accused communist sympathizer. Her womanhood has been questioned. And some have threatened to burn her CDs.
The Grammy-winning singer offended the hard-line exile community by standing up for a woman who was fired for supporting Cuban artists who want to perform in Miami.
“As an American, I am frightened to see one of our most basic liberties being trampled on in the march for political gain. As a Cuban-American, I am embarrassed that non-Cubans might think that we are all narrow of mind,” Estefan wrote in a recent column for The Miami Herald.
Estefan and her husband, Emilio, have been beloved by other Cuban exiles for years. But her words have infuriated former admirers.
“They have been criticized very hard and the fact that they have been criticized is because they are being seen as defending something (Cuban exiles) don’t want defended,” said Miami city commissioner Tomas Regalado, who chided her on his radio show on WCMQ-AM.
“Some people in the community have said they sympathize with the communists,” he said Wednesday. “The majority of the people are just very sad and upset.”
Regalado has no apologies for the criticism. And Gloria Estefan is holding firm.
In an interview Monday on CBS-Telenoticias, she noted that artists are exempt from the U.S. embargo of Cuba. She said she and her husband remain vehemently anti-communist and wouldn’t attend a concert by a Cuban performer, but still respect the rights of others.
“The embargo excludes art. Legally they can’t stop them from coming here,” she said. “I’m not going to that concert. I won’t participate. … But I’m not anyone to tell other people they can’t go.”
Intolerance in Miami’s Cuban-Americans is nothing new. But when Estefan jumped in to the controversy, exiles’ best-known voice took an old Miami debate to new heights.
Estefan, who came to the United States when she was 2, has been very involved in the community, helping raise money for victims of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and visiting the refugee camps at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A close associate of the Estefans who spoke on condition of anonymity said the singer was hurt by the criticism and that many of the people criticizing the singer had obviously not read her column. Estefan declined comment for this story.
The attacks prompted a wave of support for the Estefans and the person they have defended - Peggi McKinley, who was ousted from the county’s film advisory board for advocating that Cuban artists be allowed to perform in south Florida.
One letter to the Herald read: “Thank you for reminding all in this community about what this great nation stands for and how some continuously forget it in exchange for personal gain.”
But many in Miami - especially older Cubans who lost their country to a communist revolution - see things differently. They view Cuban singers as ambassadors of the revolution. Even worse, they say Fidel Castro’s government gets most of the money the singers make.
“I empathize with the pain, I really do,” said Katy Sorenson, the sole county commissioner to vote against McKinley’s firing. “But silencing is a form of tyranny and you can’t fight tyranny with tyranny.”