Gloria Estefan Talks Immmigration Story to U.S.

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“Our cultural differences are our strength and only enrich this country,” says the Cuban-American icon

Gloria Estefan is proud of her immigration story and the life she made for herself in America.

Born in Cuba, Estefan’s family emigrated from Havana when she was just 2 years old. She found solace in song as she helped her mother Gloria, a schoolteacher, care for her sick father José, a Vietnam War veteran. But music was just a pastime until she met husband Emilio in 1975 and began fronting his band, Miami Sound Machine.

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Over the past 45 years, Estefan has sold an estimated 100 million albums on her historic ascent to becoming the queen of Latin pop. Iconic career aside, Estefan still takes pride in where she comes from.

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A young Gloria Estefan (back), with mother Gloria, younger sister Rebecca and father José

Estefan Enterprises Inc

“I’d rather keep awards in the office because my home is my home, but the Grammys are on the mantel in my family room — they are very special — and the Presidential Medal of Freedom is here because it signifies so much,” Estefan, 62, says in the new issue of PEOPLE.

“Emilio and I were the first couple to receive it together,” she continues. “We’re immigrants who came to this country with nothing, and this country tells you, ‘You can be who you want to be.’ “

Adds Estefan: “Our cultural differences are our strength and only enrich this country. The United States is supposed to be a place of freedom and opportunity for everyone, and we cannot allow that to change.”

RELATED: Gloria Estefan Reflects on How Her 1990 Near-Death Bus Crash Changed Her Life — and Iconic Career

Gloria and Emilio Estefan receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015

Alex Wong/Getty

As the national conversation on immigration is more tumultuous and divisive as ever, Estefan is urging fans to vote in the November election if they are eligible.

“If you have the opportunity to vote, you have to vote,” she says. “Don’t throw your hands up in the air, like in the last election where 46 percent of us thought, ‘I don’t know either one, I’m not going to vote.’ “

She adds, “I know this year’s going to be particularly contentious and difficult, which is why more than ever we have to make it a point, come hell or high water, to vote for whoever you want to vote for, but you got to vote — and every immigrant out there that has that opportunity has even a bigger responsibility to do it.”

For more on Gloria Estefan, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere now.

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