As the Miami sun begins to set, Gloria and Emilio gather the family at their home.
"Ooh, Sasha!" proud abuela Gloria coos, pulling her 10-month-old grandson from the arms of Nayib, who lives across the street with his wife, Lara Coppola (of the Coppola film family).
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With the dark-haired infant present, his grandparents pause to reflect on their remarkable journey. "Age gives you something that you cannot buy," says Emilio. "It gives you wisdom, balance and peace."
Gloria finds herself feeling liberated in a way she didn't expect. "This is the time in my life when I'm doing everything I want to do, when I want to do it," she says. "It's 'me time.' "
Much of what Gloria wants to do revolves around her civic-leadership role in Miami, where she and Emilio are regarded as not only accessible citizens but good neighbors. When the music business took a downturn 10 years ago and the couple were struggling to support their 3,000 employees, they found jobs for them in their hotels on South Beach and in Vero Beach, and in their restaurants in Miami, Hollywood and Orlando. Currently Gloria is campaigning to restore the Miami Marine Stadium, an engineering marvel that has been closed since 1992. Its architect, Hilario Candela, is from Cuba.
"Our culture, the culture of my parents and grandparents, is going to be wiped off the face of the earth if we don't save it," Gloria says, leaning down to pet one of the family's seven dogs.
She resumes speaking, her voice full of melancholy: "There's something that pulls me to Cuba and its plight, even though I've been here for more than 50 years. That love of a homeland that no longer is the same reaches into every aspect of who I am."
Emilio also feels drawn to call attention to his native culture. He sits on a commission exploring the creation of a national Latino museum in Washington, D.C., and is producing his first feature film, a comedy about acceptance and understanding of cultures and diversity. In addition, he wrote The Rhythm of Success — How an Immigrant Produced His Own American Dream, and collaborated on the book The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom.
A paid ambassador for AARP, Emilio has emerged as the go-to guy for corporations seeking to reach the Hispanic market. "I'm doing the biggest things of my life right now," he says.
But, in the end, it's the smallest things that matter. In the couple's entertainment room, Gloria's rendition of "What a Difference a Day Makes" comes on the stereo. It's the first song she ever sang with Emilio's band, when no one could have foreseen how much was in store for these exiled Latin lovers.
"What a difference 30 years makes," Gloria says to her husband. She and Emilio put their arms around each other and finish their dance.
Alanna Nash is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to AARP The Magazine
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