Music icon Gloria Estefan has long been a trailblazer in the Latino community.

With hits like "Let it loose" and "Conga," Estefan became one of the first female Hispanic artists able to attract a large following among both Spanish and English speakers.

Over the years, she has won countless Grammy awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an American Music Award Lifetime Achievement honor, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- yet her path to success was not an easy one.

Estefan immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in May of 1960, when xenophobic talk of a "Cuban invasion" was prevalent.

"I remember looking for an apartment with my mom and there were signs that said, 'No children, no pets, no Cubans,'" Estefan told ABC News contributor María Elena Salinas in the ABC News "Soul of a Nation" special " Mi Gente: Groundbreakers and Changemakers."

The tides turned when Cuban exiles, such as Estefan's father, were recruited to help fight in the Vietnam war.

"My father believed in freedom," Estefan said. "He told my mom, 'I have to fight communism wherever it may be.' "

While he survived the physical war, her father's experience in Vietnam would ultimately lead to his death. He died at the age of 47 as a long-term result of Agent Orange poisoning, which led to multiple sclerosis and other health issues.

Estefan's parents instilled a sense of determination in her that would help her rise to fame in the music world. Still, Estefan said she never thought she'd become a professional singer.

"I sang since I talked, Maria Elena," Estefan said. "It just came with me, but I didn't feel the need to do it for other people."

It wasn't until she met her now-husband Emilio that she pivoted her interests from international law and diplomacy to music.

Estefan said after hearing her perform, Emilio asked her to join his band, The Miami Latin Boys. She declined the invitation, but two weeks later when he tracked her down and asked her once again, Estefan gave in.

The newly formed Miami Sound Machine released its first album in January 1976, but nearly a decade later, Estefan said she and her husband still faced pushback.

"They didn't want 'Conga' to be the single. They wanted another single and we told them 'Conga' is the single. They still put out another one." Estefan said. "They thought that it wasn't going to be the hit because they thought it was too Latin sounding."

Songs like "Conga" nonetheless grabbed the nation's attention and launched Miami Sound Machine up through the charts. Despite their success, some still viewed the band's Latin influence as a weakness.

"Emilio and I were our biggest cheerleaders but every time we would tell [people], 'We want to do this, this is a really cool mix,' it was like, 'Eh. If you really want to break through in a market that's not a Latin market, you got to lose the percussion, you got to lose the horns,' " Estefan recalled. "Some guy even told Emilio, 'Lose the girl singer.' "

Embracing her Cuban identity would ultimately be a key component to her meteoric rise to fame, and the group's Latin beats and Cuban sounds resonated with both English and Spanish-speakers.

Alongside her husband, Estefan would eventually pave the way for the many successful Latin artists who succeeded her, such as Jennifer Lopez and Shakira -- and she has always made sure to doors when possible.

"It's a joy, it's a joy because we want to be supportive, we want Latinos to succeed," Estefan said.

When asked what her Latino background means to her more broadly, Estefan said it is "so enriching" to be able to count on both U.S. culture and the Cuban values her mother passed on to her.

"And I always say I was replanted in American soil, but I was watered with Cuban sun and Cuban water," Estefan said.

The "Soul of a Nation" special "Mi Gente: Groundbreakers and Changemakers" premieres Sept. 14 on ABC at 10 p.m. ET and will available for streaming on Hulu the following day.