In 35 Years, Kennedy Center has Honored Only One Hispanic American…Chita Rivera

Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Chita Rivera

Hispanic organizations are fed up with decades of snubbing from the Kennedy Center, which honors a select group of performing artists each year. In 35 years of handing out awards to singers, musicians and actors, the center has recognized only one Latino American: actress Chita Rivera in 2002. Rivera’s father was Puerto Rican.

 

The only other Hispanic artist to receive a Kennedy Center award was Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo in 2000.

 

Advocates have repeatedly called upon the Kennedy Center to recognize more Hispanics, citing many examples of deserving artists: Anthony Quinn, Celia Cruz, Desi Arnaz, Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos, Joan Baez, Carlos Santana and many others.

 

In September, Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, spoke with Michael G. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, by phone and complained about the absence this year of Hispanic performers among the award recipients. Kaiser reportedly lost his cool and told Sanchez at one point to “go fuck yourself” before slamming down the phone.

 

“I was stunned,” Sanchez told Sandra McElwaine of The Daily Beast. “He took umbrage that I might question or challenge him and started to defend his positions. He was very dismissive about people in a powerless situation.”

 

Word spread among the Hispanic community about Kaiser’s behavior. About 30 Latino organizations demanded an apology, which Kaiser offered a couple weeks later.

 

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda says a big problem with the Kennedy Center’s selection process lies with producer George Stevens Jr., who holds considerable sway and “is too cozy with people who are chosen,” according to McElwaine. The final selections are made by a 14-member executive committee, none of whose members is Latino.

 

This year’s honorees, who received their awards Sunday evening, were Dustin Hoffman, Buddy Guy, Natalia Makarova, David Letterman and Led Zeppelin.

 

Although it is a private nonprofit, the Kennedy Center receives $37 million in federal funds each year. One way to exert pressure on the organization would be to cut off this funding from Washington, a move that might involve the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

The Latino Fight to Be Included in the Kennedy Center Honors (by Sandra McElwaine, Daily Beast)

Hispanics Call For Kennedy Center Honors (by Elizabeth Blair, NPR)

Kennedy Center Honors Spurs Speculation On Its Secrecy (by Raisa Camargo, VOXXI)

Latino Organizations Lambast Kennedy Center Honors (by Patrick Gavin, Politico)

List of Kennedy Center Honorees (Kennedy Center)

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