WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had a special message for co-honoree Prince Royce during the taping of the 29th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards last week in Washington, DC.
“Mami told me to tell you that she loves you,” Justice Sotomayor told the Latin pop star in her acceptance speech of the Leadership Award on Sept. 22 at the Warner Theater. After delivering the message, she turned to the camera and said, “Mami, cumplí.” (Mom, I did it.)
The star-studded roster of Latino honorees also included Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz, iconic Mexican actress-singer Angélica Maria, legendary salsa band the Fania All-Stars, fitness and nutrition guru Massy Arias, business mogul George Herrera, tech genius Tony Jimenez, STEM awardee Dr. Diana Natalicio, and reggaeton superstar J Balvin.
“I think I have a big mission to tell the world to keep dreaming, keep your faith, believe in God, believe in the universe, whatever you want, but keep working hard and stay grateful,” J. Balvin told Fox News Latino backstage before accepting the Vision Award and giving a rare acoustic performance that wowed the audience.
But that wasn’t the only surprise of the evening.
“We’re going to be singing with the Fania All Stars’ Ismael Miranda, Richie Ray and Nicky Marrero on timbales,” said Miguel “Oso” Ramirez from La Santa Cecilia.
Lead singer La Marisoul said, “It was totally last minute and we were down. They’re like, ‘Would you guys be interested in …’ and we’re like ‘Hell yea!’”
“I’m checking it off my bucket list,” band member Pepe Carlos added.
La Santa Cecilia performed a couple of their hit songs before closing the show with Fania All-Stars, who accepted the Arts Award.
“We’re really thrilled to be here today,” Fania All-Stars’ Richie Ray told Fox News Latino. “It’s happy music and these are difficult and troubling times. So we feel that we can make people feel a little more jolly and maybe dance a little bit and forget about the rough things that are going on.”
That feel-good vibe was evident throughout the night among all honorees, performers and program participants, including pop star Becky G, who received the Inspira Award in 2015. She returned to hand off the honor, and the one-year commitment to work with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation youth programs, to Prince Royce.
“It was cool to meet other young people that were so passionate,” the “Sola” singer said about her year working with the Foundation’s youth. She said they inspired her to see that “we are more than just our last names. We are more than just the color of our skin. We are just as capable as anybody else,” she told FNL.
Prince Royce said he was looking forward to carrying on the Inspira Award torch because the youth has been a major focus throughout his career.
“It’s always been about motivating the youth, motivating my community to work hard, that anything is possible, that you can make your dreams come true,” he said. “And this is what this award is all about.”
Fitness and nutrition expert Massy Arias, who received the Wellness Award, echoed that sentiment and pointed out the importance of honoring an Afro-Latina.
“I’m honored and it means a whole lot especially since you don’t see many Afro-Latinas being awarded,” the soon-to-be first-time mom said. “This just means I’m doing what I love and it’s actually changing lives and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Angélica Maria or “La Novia de Mexico” took home the Legend Award and shared with the audience how life-changing her move to America was.
“I came to this country to work hard; from the fields to a stage like this,” she said during her acceptance speech after her daughter, Angélica Vale, and granddaughter presented her with the award. A funny moment happened when Vale stumbled on her English and said, “Like Celia (Cruz) said, ‘My English is not very good looking.’”
Among all the events that take place during Hispanic Heritage Month, the Hispanic Heritage Awards is undoubtedly one of the highlights. But probably no one described it better than world-renowned author and Literature Award recipient, Junot Diaz.
“When I was told I was going to be up here with J Balvin and Justice Sotomayor, I was like ‘My a** is there. I’ll even wear a tux,’” he told the audience before giving one of the most moving speeches of the evening that celebrated the Latino community’s strength, resiliency and creativity.
“We are the only superpower this country will ever know,” Diaz said. “And despite all we do and all we are, we find ourselves attacked and demonized … All of us must be free. All of us must be free. All of us must be free. Or none.”
The Hispanic Heritage Awards are set to air Friday, Sept. 30 on PBS.
Zayda Rivera is a communications professional and freelance writer working in NYC who specializes in Hispanics living in the United States.
You can reach her on Twitter: @RiveraZayda