09/26/2012 10:02 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

Has the Kennedy Center Ignored Latinos?


Over the weekend The Los Angeles Times ran a story generated by two Latino organizations, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. The two want to create public awareness that the Kennedy Center Honors Awards largely exclude Latinos.

As most Americans know, each year the Kennedy Center honors living artists who have reached the top of their profession via a lifetime of achievement. The 2012 nominees were announced earlier this month and include actor Dustin Hoffman, bluesman George "Buddy" Guy, late-night TV host David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova, and the three surviving musicians from the Led Zeppelin band, keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant.

Only two artists of Hispanic descent have been honored in the last 35 years -- Spanish tenor and conductor Placido Domingo (2000) and actress, singer, and dancer Chita Rivera (2002).

This fall the Kennedy Center also announced the appointment or re-appointment of 10 board members. Out of a total of 53 board members, the two Latino organizations noted that there is one person with a Spanish surname: Giselle Fernandez who is a Mexican-American television journalist.

The Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2011 reached 52 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest ethnic minority. A 2008 Census Bureau projection estimated that ethnic and racial minorities will become the majority in the United States by 2050, and that about one in three U.S. residents will be Hispanic by then.

From the Past: Who Should Have Been Honored?
Those artists who could have been considered in the past include Anthony Quinn, Ricardo Montalban, Raul Julia, and Rita Hayworth. To provide an understanding of the caliber of these artists, we can more closely examine the careers of Celia Cruz and José Ferrer:

Celia Cruz (1925-2003) was born in Havana, one of fourteen children. She was a Cuban-American salsa performer who earned 23 gold albums and had an international reputation as Queen of Salsa. She became a U.S. citizen in 1959 when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba. When she wasn't traveling, she and her husband lived in New Jersey.

José Ferrer (1912-1992) was the first Hispanic to win an Academy Award for his film portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac (1950). He appeared in more than 60 films, and he was also nominated for an Oscar for his performances in Joan of Arc and Moulin Rouge. He also won several Tony awards. In 1981 he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and in 1985 he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts.

Ferrer was born in Puerto Rico in 1912 and attended college in the U.S., gaining admission to the prestigious Princeton University. He planned to be a language teacher and did post-graduate work at Columbia but then discovered acting. He married five times, twice to Rosemary Clooney.

Possible Current Nominees?
Because Kennedy Center honorees are chosen from artists who are still living, those who could currently be considered might include guitarist Carlos Santana, actor and director Edward James Olmos, salsa singer and jazz musician Ruben Blades, singer and songwriter Julio Iglesias and singer and actress Gloria Estefan.

Or what about Joan Baez? She was born to a father from Puebla, Mexico and when she began her recording career in the late 1950s, she immediately had three albums that achieved gold record status; the records stayed on the charts of hit albums for two years.

In addition to her long music career Baez is also well known as a political and social activist. She credited Martin Luther King Jr. with first inspiring her, and she marched with him for civil rights whenever she could. She also actively protested the Vietnam War. More recently, she has taken stands against the war in Iraq and in favor of human rights, gay and lesbian rights as well as environmental causes. She has been romantically linked with Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs. She performed at Jobs' memorial in 2011.

Post your suggestions as to which artists should be considered.

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