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Q&A: The Estefans on finally seeing their story onstage in Spanish

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These days, Latin music is an indelible part of pop culture. Look no further than the success of Bad Bunny, the most-streamed artist in the world, and the “Encanto” soundtrack, Disney’s biggest pop smash in years, among countless other examples. In 2022, the idea of having to “cross over” from Spanish to English seems dated, but that was not always the case.

For too long, a close-minded music industry worked to keep music separated by linguistic fiefdom. But thanks to the hard work and undeniable music of artists like Gloria and Emilio Estefan — along with Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin, whom Emilio helped introduce to a wider audience — the American music industry looks and sounds like its residents.

The Estefans first came to prominence as members of Miami Sound Machine, with hits including “Dr. Beat” and “Conga,” and their rise is chronicled in “On Your Feet!,” a jukebox musical that premiered in 2015 and has since run on Broadway, in the West End and around the world (including the Kennedy Center in 2018). It recently made its Spanish-language debut at GALA Hispanic Theatre, where it will run through June 5.

Review: Spanish debut of ‘On Your Feet!’ showcases Estefans’ universal appeal

Before attending one of the first nights of the show’s run at GALA, the Estefans spoke to The Post about the significance of the show.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Q: What does it mean to you to have “On Your Feet!” translated to Spanish?

Gloria: The day that we did the first reading, my dream was hopefully we’d be successful enough that we’d be able to do it in Spanish as well. What’s particularly special to me is who translated it: Esmeralda Azkarate-Gaztelu has been a fan since she was 9 or 10 years old, and I would see her when I would go to Spain — this group of fans would hang out overnight, parked outside the hotel. I kept seeing these same kids, and they became almost like family.

Through the years, I’ve kept in contact with her and I’ve been there for her in tough times, and when the opportunity came to have someone translate, she’s an amazing translator of movies and television in Spain. It was exciting to me because it’s not just someone looking at words on a page. It’s someone that has spent three decades following our music and having a relationship with us.

[The translation] was exciting because I keep getting to add layers to this piece of work that continues to grow, and it’s very exciting for me to see it in our native tongue.

Q: Did that message become more resonant in the last few years, as attacks on immigrants have become louder and more pronounced?

Gloria: We wanted the play to highlight the contributions that immigrants have made to this country. It was the first time on Broadway that it was 99 percent Latinos onstage, in any Broadway show, and that was important to us. We opened in 2015, so we had already seen what was coming, and it became even more important for us. There’s one line where the Emilio character says, “Look closely at my face, because whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.” It would get cheers every night on Broadway and wherever it’s played, so it was important for us for that reason.

2015 review: Emilio and Gloria Estefan musical ‘On Your Feet’ is fleet and fun

Emilio: American kids, especially Latinos, are looking for somebody as a role model, to be able to have faith that we live in a great country. I think our story is a beautiful story because we had to hustle. Nobody believed in our sound; they wanted to change our last name. I wasn’t even allowed to go inside the Sony building, and then seven years later, I became president of Sony.

Q: Do you feel that you broke boundaries and led to a status quo where Latin music is simply pop music?

Gloria: It’s funny, because to us, it wasn’t breaking boundaries, it was just being who we are. Being raised in Miami gave us the opportunity to have that openness, because we wouldn’t have come up with that music if we were in Omaha or in the Midwest. We had an audience for it. Because we’re musicians, and we like to grow and evolve and explore, and not be locked in a box, we were able to make the music we make because of where we were in the United States.

Gloria Estefan left Cuba as a young child, but the island defines her, and her music

Emilio: We take pride in leaving a legacy. You can definitely make an album, but you cannot take number one [on the charts] if people don’t go on the phone and request the song.

Q: What do you remember most about the hard work it took to break through?

Gloria: There were gatekeepers — that was the bottom line. We had to work around them, and Emilio is masterful at that. There’s no more motivating word for us than “no” — it lights a fire under our keisters. We were our own cheerleaders. It’s “How do we get around this? What do we do? Let’s try this.” I remember we were in the studio for 36 hours straight doing the “Conga” mix and remix because that was the only time we had. I did not sleep for those 36 hours. It was before automation; we were all at the board and then cutting pieces of tape. It was exciting.

Q: You began your careers in Miami. What is it about the city and its people that makes it a cultural force, to this day?

Gloria: Miami is like an island within Florida. It’s everything that I know that my mom and my grandparents loved about Cuba, but in a country that was democratic and allowed you freedoms. Miami is multinational: It’s got Europeans, it’s got the Caribbean, it’s got Central Americans. In New York, you’re a New Yorker first, and then whatever you are, but in Miami, people stay true to their roots in their culture. You go outside and we live in paradise. That drive from the mainland over to the beach never gets tiring.

Emilio: We learned that when a hurricane comes, it hits everybody. Like with covid now, we’re all human. Miami is a great role model for the rest of the country.

On Your Feet! La Historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan

GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. galatheatre.org.

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