Cuban-born immigrant Emilio Estefan owes his vast business empire — including Grammy-winning records, restaurants, and hotels — to the opportunities afforded him as a United States citizen.
None of it would have been possible had he stayed in Cuba, a country transformed into a freedom-squelching nightmare by its former leader, Fidel Castro.
Estefan’s new book, The Rhythm of Success, recalls the author’s decision to flee Cuba as a young teen and his subsequent rise to fame and fortune.
Part self-help tome, part autobiography, Success is an unabashed love letter to the U.S.
“Is there any other country in the world that has been so generous to so many people?” he asks.
It’s also a fresh reminder of how Castro created an atmosphere in which people will risk everything for the chance to escape.
The book belabors the obvious at times, particularly when the author is doling out commonsense business advice. But readers should be patient. Estefan’s life story, that of an immigrant who snatched every chance his new country gave him, makes for a compelling narrative full of warm, colorful anecdotes.
“My childhood ended when I was eleven,” Estefan writes on the very first page. His young mind couldn’t process all the changes happening to Cuba in the 1960s, but he understood “freedom was a place where soldiers didn’t come to your home and herd people around with machine guns.”
Estefan recalls the chilling effect the government’s oppressive policies had on family and friends alike. Those who could leave did. He managed to escape along with his father to Spain and later to the U.S., cleaving his tight-knit family in two.
He remembers getting letters from his mother and brother, some sliced and diced by Cuban officials, others with words blacked out.
The young Cuban arrived in the United States with “nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and a heart filled with hope and optimism. That, it seems, was enough,” he writes.
Estefan wouldn’t be able to reunite his family right away. It would take time, money, and the proper paperwork to make that happen. In the meantime, he found gigs playing an accordion and, later, began working for the famed Barcardi liquor company. When he couldn’t afford something, he would barter for it or convince a relative to loan him the money. He was used to going without the basics, which meant he usually paid off his loans with alacrity.
His fame and fortune was built, piece by piece, from those humble roots.
Success details Estefan’s rise in chapters breaking down his business philosophies. So every time he climbs a rung on the corporate ladder he accompanies the move with advice on how to replicate his feat. Trust yourself. Be brave. Take responsibility. The structure lends his occasionally generic wisdom some bite.
It helps to share the same drive to thrive as Estefan possesses. The author wakes each morning at 5 a.m. in order to squeeze every last ounce of the day and refuses to take setbacks personally. He wisely predicted the future market for Latino music, something that sounds obvious looking over the past decade, what with Ricky Martin, Shakira, and others selling records hand over fist. He never lost faith that his heritage would be a blessing, not a curse, in his new home.
Estefan helped fuel the Latino music movement directly via his band Miami Sound Machine, the vehicle which introduced him to his future wife, singer Gloria Estefan.
The most harrowing chapter in Success deals with his wife’s near-fatal bus accident. The singer was told she wouldn’t walk again, but after grueling physical therapy she was able to sing and dance once more. The tragedy even inspired one of her bigger hits, “Coming Out of the Dark.”
Some of Estefan’s advice is too obvious, but he often spices those tidbits with real-world examples to buttress his arguments. He’s got plenty from which to draw, from his extended family to his rise in the musical world. He’s cobbled together winning plans for marketing schemes — and song hooks — by scribbling notes to himself on the backs of matchbooks and gum wrappers.
If there’s a prototypical immigrant success story, Estefan’s life is the template. That he had to leave his native land to accomplish what he’s done makes The Rhythm of Success both inspirational and bittersweet.
“The Cuban immigrant community has been the most aggressive of any group, because everything was taken from us,” he explains.
Zip past the self-serving forward by Quincy Jones and you’ll be richly rewarded by The Rhythm of Success, a blueprint for future immigrants to follow.