Gloria, Emily and Lili Estefan open up about colorism in the Latinx community: 'We need to have this conversation'

This week, as Latinx & Hispanic Heritage Month continues, Grammy-winning Latin music trailblazer Gloria Estefan, her daughter, Emily Estefan, and niece Lili Estefan return for a new season of Facebook Watch’s Daytime Emmy- and GLAAD Media Awards-nominated series Red Table Talk: The Estefans. Over Season 2’s dozen weekly new episodes, the three generations of women will tackle important topics including plastic surgery, online bullying, the Surfside condominium collapse and child abuse. And as the Estefans preview the series during a sit-down interview with Yahoo Entertainment & Life, Emily mentions one Red Table Talk discussion she’s especially looking forward to.

“One thing I’m really proud and excited about is we’re bringing up and opening the door to the conversation of colorism and racism within the Latin community,” says the 26-year-old second-generation musician. “You know, families that have siblings ranging in skin tones and colors — some identifying as Afro Latino, some not — and just this duality within the community of these things that we’re facing that are difficult to talk about.”

“That aren’t talked about,” Gloria interjects.

“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 continues. “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.”

“This was one of those episodes that I hope people will see and feel that bridge being built within the community,” adds Gloria — who, as one of the most prominent Latinx celebrities in the U.S. over the past four decades, found her name and comments about her own skin color in the news cycle recently, when Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film In the Heights came under fire for its lack of representation of the Black Latinx population.

“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!’ They literally called me out because I’m lighter,” Gloria recalls. “But 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, whatever. 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. And the only thing when I read that … OK, even though I go, ‘Hey, I’m just as Latina as anybody else,’ I understood where that was coming from.”

“A little Black Latina girl isn’t going to see herself necessarily represented in [Gloria],” Emily points out.

When asked if any of the Estefan women have been accused of having career advantages over their darker-skinned Latinx peers, Emily immediately chimes in. “I mean, I think we do,” she answers bluntly. “I think we do. And that’s part of the reason why we need to have this conversation. … I think that we do walk around with these privileges, and that is why it is even more important to use our voice, to speak about it … and there are moments as well where we’ve had, you know, moments of people not calling us out but just educating us on the reality of certain experiences.”

Cuban American pop superstar Gloria in particular has had to contend with preconceptions about Latina entertainers since she began recording with Miami Sound Machine in 1977, including the stereotype that all Latinx women are “spicy,” “fiery” and overtly sexual. “Well, I’ve never really thought about making my self-image reflected by stereotypes,” chuckles the elder Estefan, who turned 64 this month. “I love to break stereotypes! You know, people would tell us, “You’re too American for the Latins. You’re too Latin for the Americans.’ … Which is why my favorite [fashion] look was my chaps — because I was in jeans and leather chaps! That’s not Latina in any way, shape or form! Plain white top, I let my curly hair fly, and that was great. People loved it.”

“There was a moment there, which is like: Look, for most people, a Latina woman is Lili Estefan or Gloria Estefan. And I mean, yes, they are Latina women, but Latina women are all colors, all sorts of colors and shapes and sizes and hair textures,” Emily emphasizes.

“And different shades and accents and different food,” Gloria adds. “Especially now for Hispanic Heritage Month, I think it’s important not just to celebrate our sameness, that we’re all Latinos, but for us to celebrate the beautiful cultural tapestry that we bring to this country, whether it be West Coast Mexican to East Coast over here — Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican and everything in between. We have a lot to offer in many different ways, and we have to celebrate those beautiful differences as well.”

Gloria’s niece, Emmy winner Lili Estefan, looks back on her own long career and believes the entertainment industry has evolved for all Latinx women, an evolution that led to a groundbreaking show like Red Table Talk. “The Hispanic market for so many years — like, it’s already 35 years — I’ve seen the change,” the 54-year-old television host says optimistically. “You know, before it used to be more a stereotype, but now we’re open. It is totally different. I see the change, even on the soap operas, or the way that we handle ourselves. It’s getting much better.”

Red Table Talk: The Estefans Season 2 premieres Sept. 30 at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET on Facebook Watch. Upcoming guests include Clare Crawley (the first Latina Bachelorette), Becky G, Anitta, Ariel Winter, Karamo, Amara La Negra and Gabi DeMartino.

Video produced by Kat Vasquez.

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