The Kennedy Center is once again being blasted for excluding Latino artists from their annual Lifetime Achievement Honors, just two years after promising to make good on their dismal history of overlooking Hispanics for the prestigious award.
Every year, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honors five actors, singers, dancers, and other performers with awards given by the president of the United States. But over the past 37 years, the Kennedy Center has honored just four Latino artists out of 195 honorees.
The issue hit a head in 2012 when public shaming from Latino organizations, primarily the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, pushed the Kennedy Center to change their selection process – leading to the selection of two Latinos in 2013, Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana and opera singer Martina Arroyo.
But, to the disappointment of Latino activists, this year there are zero Latino honorees. This year's honorees include: Al Green, Tom Hanks, Patricia McBride, Sting and Lily Tomlin.
“The issue is not that we deserve Latinos every year, the issue is that there is a backlog of Latinos that could have been honored, that haven’t been honored,” Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, said in an interview with Fox News Latino.
Included in that backlog of artists, Sanchez said, is actress Rita Moreno, actor Edward James Olmos, singer Julio Iglesias, movie director Pedro Almodovar, and singer Gloria Estefan, just to name a few.
In an e-mail, Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said, “The selection process we used in 2013 yielded the honorees we announced today and we expect the process to begin anew next year. We were proud to honor two Latinos last year and expect to honor more in the years to come.”
But Sanchez believes the choice to not include Latinos this year undermines the trust that was being re-established with the Center.
“If you’ve been excluded for 35 years and the total number of Latino honorees are four, then there is an expectation that you’re going to at least have several years in a row of selecting Latino artists,” Sanchez said.
In 2012, controversy over the lack of Latino honorees erupted after a tense phone exchange between Sanchez and then Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser in which Kaiser allegedly used profane language. Kaiser apologized, saying he did not appreciate the insinuation that somehow he was a racist. After the spat, the center amended the selection process by creating an artist review panel and opening the nomination process up to the public on its website.
The organization even added a Latino Advisory Panel but, Sanchez says, the council only met once this past year. The center says that's because there was a transition of power between presidents. Sanchez believes the panel needs to have more say in the selection process.
Taking it further, in a Facebook post, Sanchez said the controversy extends all the way to the White House. He noted the selection board includes appointees by President Barack Obama and as such are an extension of Obama.
"He would be endorsing a pattern of practice of Latino exclusion by attending this year's event" Sanchez said.
"If the president’s appointees voted for these honorees, knowing the history of Latino exclusion, then either the President and Mrs. Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors and endorse their action,” he wrote in a Facebook post, “or the president and his staff grow a pair and fire these presidential appointees who serve at his pleasure."
Sanchez also believes the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should be equally as outraged. The CHC, who did not respond to requests for comment, has voiced their displeasure over the center's Latino exclusion in the past but has not commented on the current class of honorees.