Huffpost Latino Voices

Kennedy Center Honors Criticized For Not Recognizing Latino Artists

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KENNEDY CENTER
AP

This year five more artists will receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, and once again no Latino artists will be among the awardees. In fact over the award's 35 year history, Latino artists have only been honored twice, out of 170 awards presented.

"I think its an example of an old paradigm that hasn't changed," Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA), told The Huffington Post. "I mean this is a show that was created 35 years ago...Now a lot has changed over 35 years."

Indeed it has. According to the 2010 Census Bureaus statistics, at 50 million people, Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States, and it is no secret that many have been very successful across the arts. But outside of Placido Domingo in 2000 and Chita Rivera in 2002, no major Latino artist has received a Kennedy Center honor.

The Kennedy Center Honors have been written and produced by George Stevens Jr. and his son Michael Stevens since it first began in 1978. George Stevens Jr. also serves as co-chair of the Obama administration's President's Committee for Arts and Humanities. According to Sanchez, it is time for a change in editorial leadership. The fact that Stevens Jr. serves as producer and writer for the show while co-chair on the president's board presents a conflict of interest, according to Sanchez, giving Stevens Jr. too much control over the final selection process.

"The chairman of the Kennedy Center David M. Rubenstein and Michael Kaiser, President of Kennedy Center, can overrule the producer, they have not," Sanchez told Huffington Post. "They have cobbled together a show that has a very different vision of who America is today then we as a nation know it to be."

As a group, Latinos tend to favor Democrats, yet Sanchez, also a Democrat, still doesn't feel like Latinos are fully included.

"...this contextualizes the reason why Latino Democrats have an issue with the Democratic party apparatus, because the party wants to welcome them, but on their terms. They are not included in an uniform way but in a periphery way. Why hasn't the White House questioned this?"

According to Sanchez, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada, came into office largely due to the Latino vote and should be pushing to help resolve this issue.

When contacted by The Huffington Post, Reid's office thanked the media for bringing it to their attention and said they would be looking into the issue and complete their due diligence before deciding on a course of action.

However Sanchez has clear guidance to give on the course of action the White House should take.

"NHFA and NHLA (National Hispanic Leadership Agenda) have written to the President and asked that he and the First Lady not attend or host any future Honors' ceremonies until Stevens Jr. and his son, Michael are replaced with a new and independent producer; that the selection process be removed from the producers of the show; and that the White House insist that the Kennedy Center Honorees be selected by the presidentially appointed Board instead."

Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but Sanchez feels it is a critical move to make the Honors stand by the principles of its namesake family.

"In 1960 candidate John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, were the first to outreach to Mexican Americans...There is footage of Jackie Kennedy on the back of a pickup truck with a megaphone asking Hispanics to vote for her husband. Ethel and Robert Kennedy marched with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta for migrant farm worker rights, and Edward Kennedy who on his death bed was fighting for immigrant rights. This tarnishes that legacy by segregating out Latinos from this award."

Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center, did not return calls requesting comment.

This year's recipients are Buddy Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, and Led Zeppelin.

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