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Michael Kaiser, Kennedy Center President, Insults Latino Leader, Faces Calls To Apologize (UPDATED)

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Michael Kaiser arrives at the 34th Kennedy Center Honors held at the Kennedy Center Hall of States on December 4, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Tran/Getty Images)
Michael Kaiser arrives at the 34th Kennedy Center Honors held at the Kennedy Center Hall of States on December 4, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Tran/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Saturday, Sept. 29 1:35 p.m. EST -- Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser apologized in writing to Felix Sanchez for using foul language during their telephone conversation. Read the full letter at the Washington Post.

PREVIOUSLY: The Chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts wants an apology -- and 30 Latino organizations are backing him up.

When the Kennedy Center announced its honorees earlier this month, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, along with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, blasted the Center’s selection process. In a letter to the center, President Barack Obama, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the foundation pointed to a “constant pattern of exclusion for Latinos,” according to Politico.

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser’s response: “Go fuck yourself.”

Janet Murguia, President of the National Council of the La Raza, called for Kaiser to apologize.

“There is no excuse for Mr. Kaiser’s outburst and it should not and cannot be tolerated,” Murguia said in a statement released Wednesday. “At the very least, Kaiser owes Mr. Sanchez and our community a sincere apology and it is our hope that the Kennedy Center will take disciplinary action in light of such unacceptable behavior.”

Kaiser has yet to apologize to Felix Sanchez and has declined to confirm that he used the f-word during a telephone conversation with the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts chairman. Kaiser did tell the Washington Post that he regretted his language. In his defense, Kaiser said he was really angry:

I’ve spent much of the last 20 years working with organizations of color in this country -- African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American. . . . This is a real part of who I am, and so when someone insinuates that I am a racist, it gets me extremely upset.

However, a look at the list of the Kennedy Center’s Honorees over the 35 years of the award’s existence doesn’t reveal much engagement with the Latino community. The Center has selected just two Latinos, singer Plácido Domingo and Broadway performer Chita Rivera, during that period. No Latino has received the award in a decade.

This year the Kennedy Center will recognize blues guitarist and singer Buddy Guy, actor Dustin Hoffman, late-night funnyman David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova and the surviving members of Led Zeppelin.

In an opinion piece for Fox News Latino, Sanchez suggested actress and performer Rita Moreno, guitarist Carlos Santana, singer Gloria Estefan, talk show host Cristina Saralegui and playright Luis Valdez as possible Latino honorees.

Sanchez described the slight as particularly insensitive to the Latino community because the Kennedys have long been revered by many Hispanics.

“The Kennedy name and legacy has always been tied to Latinos,” Sanchez told illustrator Lalo Alcaraz in an interview. “R.F.K. and Ethel Kennedy marched with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Ted Kennedy on his deathbed spoke about immigrant rights.”

Kaiser told the Washington Post that “there will be more” Latino awardees in the future.

The Kennedy Center Honors is among the most prestigious in the world of arts and entertainment. The awards are broadcast on national television and the President and First Lady often attend the ceremony.

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