EXCLUSIVE: Emilio Estefan on the Future of the National Museum of the American Latino

It’s a dream for every Latino in this country, and now it’s that much closer to becoming a reality! On Thursday, May 5, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will join bipartisan members of Congress and the Congressionally-established Commission for the National Museum of the American Latino—which consists of Eva Longoria, Emilio Estefan, and 21 other prominent members of the American Latino community— to celebrate the submission of the Commission’s final report to President Obama and Congress. The report contains findings and recommendations for the potential creation of our very own museum in Washington, D.C. and will include input from eight public forums held across the country to engage our voices on how to best pull this off.

We called up Emilio Estefan himself, the Commission’s Vice Chair and Producer, to give us the scoop on the report.

But it’s not all work and no play for the living Cuban legend—who has produced the Latin Grammys, Olympics and Super Bowl ceremonies, among other things—during his visit to our nation’s capital. After meeting with the president, Emilio and other members of the Commission will celebrate this major milestone for the Latino community at the annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration at the White House. You know what we say: it’s always good to mix business with pleasure!

What does the report you’re presenting to President Obama and Congress tomorrow consist of?

There are many factors we’re discussing, from the concept, to the government’s budget, to the money we have to raise privately, because this is going to be funded by both the government and private investors. But of course when you’re asking the government for funds, things get a lot more complicated, as opposed to something you finance yourself. The report will also discuss the location. I think it’s important that the museum be located in the National Mall because if we’re doing something to make a statement about our contributions to America, then it should be somewhere that speaks to this nation’s history. We have to do it right or not do it at all, that’s always been my position. All the members of the committee have worked tirelessly through every meeting, and once we present it to Congress, it will be in their hands.

How does it feel to be part of such a select group?

I’m very happy to have been selected. My agenda here is not political; I do it because I’m trying to represent all Latinos. And I really think that by presenting a positive image of Latinos, that’s how we’re going to win the immigration battle in this country as well as leave a legacy to all Latinos and to our kids. I’ve always said it doesn’t matter where you’re from, whether it’s Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Puerto Rico—the only way we are going to increase our political and economic power in the United States is by staying united and making our presence felt.

What are the next steps?

Well, after the official submission of the report we will start the actual negotiations.  

What’s the timeline looking like?

When you’re dealing with the government’s money, it can be very hard. It takes years. The museum honoring African Americans has been something like 20 years in the making, but we hope that the Museum for the American Latino will be much quicker —we certainly are working very hard toward that. We have some very powerful, connected, and capable people all working toward the same goal. All that is going to ensure that it moves along.

How is this different than producing a Latin Grammy telecast or any of the other things you’ve done throughout the years?

I only produce things I truly believe in. The difficult thing about politics is that there can be racism—it’s a strong word, but let’s be real. There is racism everywhere, and not just toward us, but towards the African American community as well, toward Jews, etc. In general, we don’t all think the same. So we have to focus on the positive and somehow know that we are going to win this fight. I remember talking to Quincy Jones years ago and telling him that it’s important for us to build a positive foundation in terms of image, one that’s not just about being portrayed as drug dealers in Hollywood. A lot of people come to this country to make a better life, and then there’s the newer generation, people like my children and you, who are born bilingual and are doing incredible things.

How is it working with Eva Longoria on this?

She’s wonderful. She has a great, big heart and a strong sense of Latino identity. She’s super-sharp and she’s a fighter, like me. Last week we had a meeting about immigration with the president, a meeting which I’ve worked for two years to get, to talk about what can be done to help the president tackle reform, and she was like, ‘Emilio, I have to catch a plane back to Los Angeles tonight because I have a taping at 6 a.m.’ Those are the kinds of sacrifices that we make, and we all pay for our own way—just so we can have the president’s ear on things that matter to Latinos.

Do you go to the Cinco de Mayo bash at the White House every year?

Whenever they invite me [laughs]! I’ve had the honor of meeting six different American presidents, some Democrat, others Republican. I think they see in me a man who doesn’t have a political agenda, but rather someone who is fighting for the good of an entire community. They see someone who loves and respects this country with all his heart, but will always, no matter what, defend the rights of Latinos here. There are 12 million undocumented immigrants here, so one way or another, we have to do something about it and make sure those families aren’t torn apart.