Gloria Estefan — singer, songwriter, actress, and one of the biggest pop stars of the 1980’s — opened up yesterday about sexual abuse she endured as a child at the hands of a family member.
The story came as part of the Facebook Watch series Red Table Talk: The Estefans in which Gloria Estefan — joined by her daughter Emily and niece Lily — spoke with Clare Crawley, the first Latina lead of ABC’s The Bachelorette. Estefan opened the episode with a statistic: that “93% of abused children know and trust their abusers” and added that she was one of the abused. Understandably emotional, Estefan reaches out for the hands of her daughter and niece.
According to Gloria Estefan, the abuse happened when she was 9 years old, after her mother sent her to a music academy to learn classical guitar. The owner of the school was, Estefan says, “family, but not close family.” He heaped praise upon the young girl and insisted giving her specialized, individual attention which made Estefan’s mother very proud. Once the abuse began, Estefan said, she tried everything she could to avoid going to school. She would invent illnesses, and would even send audio tapes her father José — who was serving in the US military in Vietnam — saying she didn’t want to go to the school anymore.
With Gloria Estefan’s father overseas, her abuser threatened to kill her mother if she didn’t keep quiet about what he was doing. She said she confessed what had happened to her mother when she couldn’t take it anymore, and that the police advised her mother to not press charges. The trauma Estefan would endure in court, the police said, would be worse than what she suffered at her abuser’s hands.
While she presumably never was abused by the music school owner again, he apparently returned to her life unexpectedly years later. When Gloria Estefan’s band Miami Sound Machine enjoyed their first major hit Conga, a letter from Estefan’s abuser was printed in a newspaper — Estefan says simply “the paper” and doesn’t specify which — criticizing her music. The singer said that was the first time she came close to going public with what happened. Estefan stopped herself, she said, when she realized if she went to the press then the story of her success would become all about her abuser.
Born in September, 1957, Gloria Estefan would have turned 9 years old in 1966. Conga — on the 1985 Miami Sound Machine album Primitive Love — hit the Billboard Top 100 in 1985, and was still there in 1986. That means even two decades after he allegedly abused her, the predator was still willing to re-enter her life and force her to relive the trauma.
It will be interesting to see in the coming months whether or not Gloria Estefan’s alleged abuser will be identified. While Estefan doesn’t name him, she provides us with a good number of details. The singer says he’s “family, but not close family,” that he owned a music academy, and that he had a letter printed in the paper specifically about Estefan some time in 1985 or 1986. While she doesn’t name the paper, since she lived in Miami as a child, there’s a good chance it was a paper from that city. People have been identified with much less.