Lili Estefan’s speech at People en Español’s 25 Most Influential Women luncheon in Miami on March 16 surprised many attendees. The co-host of Univision’s entertainment show El Gordo y La Flaca, said she also experienced sexual harassment at work years ago, joining the #MeToo Movement, alongside such Hollywood actresses as America Ferrera and Salma Hayek.
Estefan alleges that when she started her career as a model on the now-defunct entertainment show Sábado Gigante, TV host Rolando Barral purposely walked in on her in her underwear while she was changing in her dressing room although she told him to stay out.
“At the end nothing happened to me, 30 years later I’m still here, but I was one of the ones who stood up for herself at that time without caring about losing my job and we have to remember that today,” she said in the moving speech. “Other women couldn’t do the same, and I support them just the same because I know how difficult it is to live through a moment like that.”
She emphasized this was the first time she shared this story publicly. “I had never used this publicly, for publicity or anything like that, but I did go through it and I’m sure that many other women stayed quiet in order not to damage someone else or the image of the show,” she told the audience, who applauded her testimony.
She later detailed the bitter experience to People en Español in a video interview backstage. “I had a direct problem with Rolando Barral, I would say, two months after I started at Sábado Gigante. I remember I was in the dressing room after we finished filming one of our shows and I told him: ‘Please don’t come in, I’m changing.’ At that moment he opened the door, I was in my underwear and he said: ‘That’s how I wanted to see you baby.’ I looked at him and said: ‘I can’t believe this man just did that.’ I walked out in my underwear, just like I was, to the hallway where he was and I grabbed him, I pushed him against the wall. It got ugly. He kicked the door. And I remember everyone around was like: What just happened?” she said.
She adds that she reported Barral’s alleged inappropriate behavior to her then boss. “I called the person who was our boss back then, and I remember him saying: ‘He didn’t comment anything about it, we just finished a meeting about the show. Is everything okay, Lili?’ I said: “I’m calling you because this happened last night and maybe he will try to hurt me in some way or talk about me. The only thing I want you to know is that I won’t stay quiet. If something like this happens, I will speak up. I won’t put up with it.” Although the alleged incident occurred many years ago and Barral has since passed away, she felt the need to break her silence.
The Cuban TV host, 50 — who is on the celebrated list of powerful women in the Spanish-language magazine’s current issue — reiterated as she was leaving the luncheon that she had no regrets about sharing her experience: “I wasn’t going to stay quiet.”