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Martha Lucia Guevara

and hard work:
the ingredients
of success


"Come on everybody let's do the Conga, I know you can't control yourself any longer," sang Gloria Estefan in her 1985 hit song "Conga." Apparently she was right. No one could resist Estefan's Latin rhythm. She became world famous soon after the record's release. But her journey to stardom had begun more than two decades earlier when she left Cuba for Miami.

Gloria Fajardo Estefan went to the United States in 1959 on a $21 flight from Havana to Miami. She and her family were Cuban refugees fleeing the island nation after Fidel Castro's communist dictatorship came to power. The family arrived with few material goods. Little did they know that one day Gloria would be a multiple Grammy award winner, sell more than 60 million records and become the planet's most successful performer in Latin music history.

Gloria Estefan was born in Havana in 1957 to Gloria Fajardo, a schoolteacher, and Jose Manuel Fajardo, a security officer for former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. After arriving in Florida, Jose Fajardo and his family settled in a working class neighbourhood near The Orange Bowl, Miami's famous stadium. Jose returned to Cuba to serve as a tank commander in the unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion against Castro's communist government. He was captured, imprisoned in Havana and released in 1963. After returning to Miami, he joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam in 1967.

Gloria's father returned from Vietnam a year later. Sadly, he was suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, a chemical that was widely used in Vietnam. He had developed multiple sclerosis. Gloria was only 11 at the time. She helped nurse, clean and feed him, until he was put in hospital in 1976. It was during this time that Gloria says she found comfort in her music, singing in her room. "Music healed me," she says.

In 1975 Gloria enrolled at the University of Miami and majored in psychology. Around this time she met Emilio Estefan at a wedding where his band, the Miami Latin Boys, was performing. He persuaded her to sing two songs and offered her a job. Gloria accepted and the band was renamed the Miami Sound Machine.

Gloria graduated with top academic honours. Then, three years after their first meeting, Gloria and Emilio got married. Her father, Jose, died two years later - the same year Gloria and Emilio's first child, Nayib, was born. It was also the same year Miami Sound Machine acquired its first record contract.

The Estefans used their savings and $20,000 of Sony Records' money to produce the band's next album. Primitive Love reached the top of the music charts. The band, renamed Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, went on to record 10 multi-platinum albums over the next 12 years. The Estefans were able to buy back the rights to their old songs for $25,000. Emilio, who served as the band's and Gloria's manager from the beginning, repackaged the music into a compilation album. Five million copies of that album sold in 1987.

Just when the Estefans were at the top of their career, tragedy struck. In 1990, while Gloria and her band were aboard a tour bus in Pennsylvania, a tractor-trailer crashed into the bus. Nayib, then 9, suffered a broken collarbone. Emilio escaped without serious injuries. Gloria was not so lucky. The singer's back was broken in two places. She was temporarily paralyzed. Gloria endured an operation in which two titanium rods were inserted in her back to brace her spine. Her year-long physical rehabilitation was excruciating and painful. Amazingly, the singer was back on stage performing less than a year after the accident. Their daughter, Emily, was born in December 1994.

Today, Gloria and Emilio Estefan are multi-millionaires. Their business empire includes recording studios, Cuban-theme restaurants, merchandise, talent management, song writing and television production. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who still remembers the pain and struggle her parents went through for a chance at a better life. Gloria Estefan is living proof that perserverance, positive thinking and hard work are the ingredients of success.


soon after: poco después (de)
: lanzamiento
stardom: estrellato
refugees: exiliado, refugiado político
fleeing: huyendo de
dictatorship: dictadura
little did they know: ni se imaginaban
performer: artista, intérprete
security officer: oficial de seguridad
former: anterior
tank commander: comandante de tanque
released: liberado
joined: ingresó a
Agent Orange: Agente Naranja
healed me: me curaba, me sanaba

enrolled: se matriculó
majored: se especializó en
savings: ahorros
were able to buy back: pudieron recomprar
tragedy struck: surgió la tragedia
crashed into: chocó con
collarbone: clavícula
endured: sufrió
titanium rods: barras de titanio
to brace her spine: para sujetar su columna vertebral
: imperio
excruciating and painful
: penosísima y dolorosa
quite an accomplishment: un verdadero logro
living proof: la prueba viviente
perseverance: constancia