Gloria Estefan Reflects on Being Called Out During ‘In the Heights’ Colorism Controversy

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Gloria Estefan says being called out during the height of the In the Heights colorism criticism was something she understood as a result of her name recognition and is partly why the Estefans are dedicating an entire episode of Red Table Talk to the issue.

In a recent interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, Estefan, along with her daughter Emily and niece Lili, revealed that a season two episode of their Facebook series will focus explicitly on colorism in the Latinx community. The trio said that part of that decision was based on the conversations and criticisms that popped up around the release of the Jon M. Chu-directed and Lin-Manuel Miranda-written In the Heights.

“One of the things that really sparked my interest even more so into tackling this topic [of colorism] at the Table this time was when the controversy started coming out surrounding In the Heights — that one of the people that started that conversation online, their line was, ‘We’re not all Gloria Estefan!’” she said. “They literally called me out because I’m lighter.”

The singer and Cuban American icon said it can be assumed she isn’t Latina due to her lighter skin, but says she understands why someone would point to her as an example.

“I understood it, completely. I understood it because I am a very well-known Latina, and I look a certain way. My skin is white, you know,” she said. “Although to a lot of people, they might assume that I’m not white because I’m Latina! So, it may have nothing to do with your genetics; the bottom line is labeling and putting people in boxes.”

“OK, even though I go, ‘Hey, I’m just as Latina as anybody else,’ I understood where that was coming from,” she added.

Emily — who is proud the show is “bringing up and opening the door to the conversation of colorism and racism within the Latin community” — says women like the Estefans “do walk around with these privileges” and advantages, including in hiring. But she says that makes it “even more important to use our voice, to speak about it.”

The 26-year-old went on to say that people have not necessarily called them out but have educated them “on the reality of certain experiences,” around an issue that Gloria says isn’t just “difficult” to talk about within their community, but that historically “isn’t” talked about.

“People are saying ‘mejorar la raza,’ which is a terrible expression implying that if your skin is lighter, you’re making your culture better or something like that — and this is something that has been said for years in families, and some people don’t even think to say something because they don’t realize,” Emily said. “So, as three Latina white women, we don’t encounter a lot of the struggles that our Afro Latino brothers and sisters do. And it’s really important, and I feel privileged to be able to use our platform to highlight conversations like that.”

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