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Emilio Estefan actively involved in fundraising and promoting awareness for the Smithsonian Latino museum

MIAMI BEACH — Music mogul Emilio Estefan could easily spend his days collecting lifetime achievement awards and tallying royalty earnings from movies and albums. As an alternative, Estefan has joined an ambitious and quintessential American cause: constructing a monument on The Mall in Washington, D.C.

Estefan is a trustee of the proposed $1 billion Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino. He is an element of an 18-member, star-studded board that features political and business leaders, in addition to actresses Eva Longoria and Sofia Vergara. Their task is to boost $500 million from private donors that may then be matched by Congress.

“That is the largest tribute to the American Dream, to showcase that we live in an incredible country,” Estefan said during an interview last month on the L’ATTITUDES Latino conference, where the museum enterprise was featured on the agenda. “I’m so pleased with the Latinos, the immigrants, and the following generations. They will and have achieved so many beautiful things.”

The Smithsonian ode to Latinos and their immigrant experience in America requires substantial money from Capitol Hill at a crossroads juncture in U.S. politics. The leading Republican candidate, former President Donald Trump, has ratcheted up his rhetoric demanding stricter immigration enforcement by labeling people crossing the U.S. Southern border as “terrorists” coming from prisons and insane asylums and bringing untold diseases with them. He also employed phrasing that critics claim parallels Nazi wording by saying, “It’s poisoning the blood of our country.”

That may be a sharp contrast from the previous standard bearer for GOP politics, Ronald Reagan, who signed amnesty laws. In his last remarks as president in January 1989, Reagan lauded immigration because the source of “American uniqueness,” noting the country draws “immigrants from every corner of the world.” Those “waves of recent arrivals,” he said, enriched the country, kept it “without end young” with “latest ideas.”

Estefan believes the museum is essential to acknowledge not only the “talent” that U.S. Latino stars have demonstrated, but the general success of the varied Hispanic communities in America. Despite “a variety of ups and downs” faced by generations of immigrants from this hemisphere, he said, they and their descendants have endured, overcome, and succeeded.

So, the triumphs value telling go far beyond the stories of those that have risen to executive corner offices or develop into cultural icons or sports heroes, Estefan emphasized. In addition they include the achievements of an enormous variety of Latinos who’re a part of the day-to-day lifeblood of America – running businesses, raising families, and leaving their legacies of civic contributions.

“There’s nothing higher than to inform their history,” he said. “These stories should be told. And I feel persons are going to be blown away by them.”

The present plans for the National Museum of the American Latino envision a 350,000 square-foot facility with 125,000 square feet of gallery space – barely greater than the 105,000 square feet within the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Congress approved laws to push the project ahead in December 2020, tasking the board with the fundraising goal and giving them the green light to scout sites on The Mall.

It also created the position of founding director to spearhead the enterprise. The post was filled in February 2022 by Jorge Zamanillo, an archaeologist by training and former executive director and CEO of HistoryMiami Museum.

Zamanillo, who was born in Latest York but grew up in Miami, said the goal is to bring the project to completion within the early 2030s.

“It represents who we’re and all the things it means to be a Latino in the USA,” Zamanillo said. “For the primary time, we can have physical space on the National Mall, and that is really vital for us.”

The to-do list immediately is lengthy, because the project has to rent architects, designers, consultants, and curators, he said.

Crucial work, he added, is to gather artifacts in the sphere in addition to oral histories to inform the Latino story of the past and present in a wide range of areas, from the military to history to culture to art.

“We wish to speak about struggles and resiliency and the way we came in 500 years of history on this nation,” said Zamanillo, who’s of Spanish and Cuban ancestry. “But we also need to tell stories about our achievements and our legacies and where we’re today and the way we came.”

Zamanillo echoed Estefan’s call to inform the story of people who the final U.S. population doesn’t all the time hear about. To that end, Zamanillo told an anecdote from his days at HistoryMiami, which he joined in 2000.

Zamanillo got here across a wallet with a person’s identification card and a photograph of a young girl. The items had been retrieved from an unoccupied Cuban refugee raft that had washed up on U.S. shores greater than a decade before. Intrigued, Zamanillo probed and located the wallet’s erstwhile owner, who was living in Miami.

The Cuban refugee told Zamanillo how he had painstakingly built the raft while working at an auto body shop within the vicinity of Havana, discreetly taking home every day a component needed for the craft’s assembly.

Once finished, the person and a few others got down to sea, only to have the makeshift vessel’s engine fail.

Eventually, the group was rescued by a Scandinavian freighter and delivered to the USA. The wallet had been left behind on the raft, tucked in a corner, from where it was found and stored on the Miami museum. In a short while, Zamanillo came upon, the person had not only began his own automotive business in Miami but had been joined by his family, including his daughter, the young girl within the photo.

“That is only one easy story about how one little wallet can really make such a robust connection and tell such a robust story about what we try to do,” Zamanillo said. “We try to inform these powerful stories about being an American Latino, being in the USA, sharing experiences, things that bring us together and things that unite us.”

The Estefans told their very own success story, which required enduring hardship but a commitment to “stay true to who you might be,” Gloria said.

The singer and actress recalled the early days of her group, the Miami Sound Machine, and the struggles they encountered as radio stations would not play their songs and producers sought to change their beat.

“They tried to water us down one million times,” she said. “They thought if we watered down who we were, then we might appeal to more people, when it was the alternative. We stood out because people were hearing something fresh. We were giving people something that they hadn’t heard before.”

Emilio Estefan told an analogous anecdote that took place even after he, Gloria, and the group were megastars – the dismissive attitude within the music industry when he first pitched a network about airing an awards show solely within the Latin genre.

“They told me that may never occur,” Estefan recalls when he tried to elucidate why an awards show that distinguished excellence in salsa, merengue, and other Latin musical genres could be a success.

Estefan said the network would only carry the show if he and others financed it. They got here up with the cash, and the Latin Grammys were born.

“Now, today, you have got double the rankings for the Latin Grammys,” he said, noting that Latin music sales will top $2 billion this 12 months.

But more vital than all of this, he said, is the hug he got from a grandson.

Yes, Estefan said his clothes, glasses, and musical instruments are on the Smithsonian museum. That recognition helps balm difficult memories of “very hard times” he and Gloria endured of their music profession, including not having money for Christmas gifts for his or her children.

“But when my grandson told me he was pleased with me, that was a fantastic thing, a fantastic moment,” he said. “You’re employed your whole life and you must leave a legacy to your kids. That is a typical story. That is what unites us. That is why those stories must be told. They encourage people.”

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