Kennedy Center President Apologizes to Latino Leader

Michael Kaiser apologizes to Felix Sanchez for using "strong language."

Michael Kaiser apologizes to Felix Sanchez for using "strong language."  (2010 Getty Images)

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser has written an apology letter to Felix Sanchez, the chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, for using “strong language” in a recent telephone conversation concerning the lack of Latinos recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors.

The move follows an uproar by 30 Latino organizations who demanded that Kaiser apologize for cursing at Sanchez. Sanchez claimed Kaiser told him to “go f*** yourself” during a brief phone conversation last week. 

Kaiser expressed regret for his words, but said he became furious when Sanchez insinuated he was a “racist.”

“I am writing to apologize for the language I used during our telephone call,” Kaiser wrote in a letter that, according to the Washington Post, was delivered by messenger to Sanchez’s office Thursday. “It was an unfortunate choice of words and I deeply regret using them in frustration during our conversation…Much of my career has been spent working with artists of color. I have been passionate about presenting excellence and diversity in artistic and educational programming, and Latino arts and programs have enjoyed a dynamic presence.”

Only two Hispanics, Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and Puerto Rican performer Chita Rivera, have been selected during Kaiser’s 12 years as president of the center.

Kaiser insists “there will be more” Latinos being honored. But Sanchez still questioned the organization’s current voting system and said more should be done to make the process fair.

“While the Kaiser apology was a few Hail Mary’s short of a full mea culpa, it’s important to move past the issue of civility and on to a discussion of the structural reforms NHFA and NHLA need to see happen at the Kennedy Center Honors...” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the selection process was "cloaked in secrecy" and suggested a better way improve it is to give the White House final say on who is nominated. 

Sanchez said he and NHLA representative Hector Sanchez will meet with Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein on Friday over lunch to discuss how Latino artists can be better recognized.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Kennedy Center has a 53-member board with a single Latina, television journalist Giselle Fernandez. Sanchez believes now is the time for the Kennedy Center to move forward and feature more diversity.

“Government and public engagement with the Kennedy Center is at risk unless the Kennedy Center formally acknowledge its fault in the matter and makes the changes we have outlined," he said. "How can government and corporate sponsors participate with the Kennedy Center unless agreement is reached on how to address this egregious dishonor to Latino artists?”

The Kennedy Center could not be reached for comment.

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