Among the different speakers was Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, who with over 90 million records sold is considered the mother of Latin pop. Estefan sat down with ZENIT to speak on the subject of religious freedom in her native Cuba. The Latin pop icon also spoke on her desire to use her music as a way of praying.
ZENIT: Why did you come to the TED which speaks about religious liberty?
Estefan: I was surprised when I was asked to speak on this topic, but they explained that they didn’t want people who aren’t religious to speak about their beliefs. Because, in the course of time, little by little, I have included all those beliefs in my songs. For me, basically, the greatest thing is love, that we love one another, which is the greatest and most profound belief that Christ taught us.
ZENIT: What does it mean for you to be here in a TED Conference in Rome?
Estefan: It’s a privilege for me to be with these people. I had the opportunity to see many fans in the front row, who came from several countries of Europe to follow me -- from Holland, Germany and England. It’s been a lovely meeting with my European audience.
ZENIT: Have you met Pope Francis?
Estefan: I’ve yet to meet the new Pope, but I hope to greet him soon.
ZENIT: You did get to meet John Paul II, no?
Estefan: Yes, because in 1995 it seems that he was listening to my music, and there was a particular song entitled Mas Alla. They had heard it. The Pope was celebrating his 50 years as a priest and I was invited to be part of the celebration.
ZENIT: You left Cuba in your mother’s arms. Do you feel Cuban or American?
Estefan: Yes, I was two years old. I really feel Cuban-American, because I grew up in the United States, but I feel we have a matter pending. Wherever I go, I don’t belong there, not even in Miami, which is the place where I grew up. I feel I’m from there, but they speak of me as an exiled Cuban.
ZENIT: What do you know about Cuba?
Estefan: I recently had the opportunity to speak with Yoani Sanchez, a blogger who is risking her life speaking about the lack of liberty in Cuba, and she was very surprised to hear that even my son’s generation consider themselves Cubans. And my son asked her what my generation can do to help Cubans who are there. Because we want for them the freedom we all have in the world.
ZENIT: And what do you think can be done?
Estefan: It’s very important for me to speak at least about Cuba, so that they won’t forget. For instance, when the “Damas de Blanco” (Ladies in White) were beaten, I organized a very large march in Miami, which brought together people of all political ideas, all religions and cultures in favor of these women who were risking themselves by asking for freedom.
ZENIT: Have you visited Cuba? Have you made a musical tour?
Estefan: Cuba is very important in my life and my music is part of who I am; it’s a cultural inheritance. And I very much regret I can’t visit my land and not have the history that the majority in the world have, thanks to which they can visit their land.
ZENIT: When you composed your song Mi Tierra, what country were you thinking of, Cuba?
Estefan: Of course, and I was also thinking of all the immigrants who, on leaving their land, miss the tastes, colors of their motherland, which they have with them wherever they go. Because, although my base is Cuban and my ideas and songs stem from there, I try to extend and not exclude, and that song includes the whole world. A Colombian composed it with me. It begins with a Colombian style and then changes to Cuban music, to show that we are all united.
ZENIT: Religious liberty is a profoundly felt problem in your country, no?
Estefan: Yes, of course. What’s more, there is no religious liberty; they don’t let us have religion because for the government – a very strong dictatorship – religion is a problem. It’s a danger when someone believes in something more than the country’s top leader. They already know they can’t, that it’s impossible. The people continued praying to God, to the God in whom they believed, in their homes, in the most private places. Now the government is opening up more. They won’t succeed. It’s like a pressure cooker that can’t go on, and that’s why the government is loosening things, little by little.
ZENIT: John Paul II said: “May Cuba open to the world, and may the world open to Cuba.” Has something happened since then?
Estefan: It’s incredible, because John Paul II invited me to go to Cuba with him that year and I told His Holiness that I didn’t want to change a spiritual trip into a political one, because I wouldn’t be able to go to Cuba and stay silent. I didn’t want to go and cause violence or lessen the Pope’s prominence. He understood this very well.
Nothing changed, although Cuba opened a bit more. Not so many things have been done against the Church and against the faithful lately, but there still haven’t been many changes for the Cuban people. Now [Cuban President] Raul Castro is allowing them to travel a little and to return. We’ll see. God willing, they will continue opening up a bit more, something that will be better for the people.
ZENIT: Last year Benedict XVI went to Cuba …
Estefan: Yes, the Popes have gone and I think it’s important that the religious leaders go to the neediest peoples. And these people are in much need of love, of belief, of religiosity. They need spirituality and it’s good that the Popes go, but while this government lasts it will be difficult to see change, if they themselves don’t make a change.
ZENIT: What will happen afterwards in Cuba?
Estefan: It’s an Island, it’s easier to control; the media controls. Now Internet is entering and the more mobile telephones there are, and the more access to the Internet there is, the government will be unable to intervene, now it is more difficult for them to control. For the time being, information is very restricted. And to restrict is an easier way to cause terror and fear in an Island.
ZENIT: In two words, what did you speak about at the TEDx Conference?
Estefan: It’s impossible to express it in two words (laughs). I’m Cuban. Music is like a part of my religion. I take it very seriously and it’s a responsibility, because every time a thrust a word out to the world, I know that many people are listening to it. I’m very grateful to be able to communicate with so many people through music, and to my fans and to those who pray for me.
ZENIT: Do you pray?
Estefan: I pray a lot! And I have many songs, for instance one that’s called Caridad del Cobre, which is about the Virgin of Cuba. I know that every time that song is broadcasted on the radio it’s like a prayer. Just like Always Tomorrow or Coming Out of the Dark.
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