Groundbreaking actress Rita Moreno gets Kennedy Center Honor, nation's top distinction

Legendary actress Rita Moreno will be honored with the nation’s highest honor for the arts by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The 83-year-old actress and singer, who has won all four of the biggest prizes in show business – the Oscar, the Tony, two Emmys and a Grammy – said that when she found out about the award, she immediately thought about her native Puerto Rico and her mother.

"You are reminded that no one is completely self-made," Moreno told the Associated Press. "You could say it's the American dream come true. ... We were on welfare for a while. It's the immigrant story. It's also the American dream story. I am just absolutely beside myself with the recognition that I'm getting, I guess, for battling it out and hanging on."

Moreno, who just finished a new album in Spanish produced by Emilio Estefan and an independent film called “Remember Me,” said that if nothing else happens, “I’ve had the best year of my life.”

Last month, Moreno served as Grand Marshall for New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade.

The groundbreaking actress was joined by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, actress Cicely Tyson, singer Carole King, rock band the Eagles and acclaimed music director Seiji Ozawa.

Moreno’s selection comes a year after the Kennedy Center was blasted by activists for not choosing a Latino artist – something it has been criticized in the past of overlooking.

Since 1978, when the Honors were established, only four honorees – Placido Domingo, Chita Rivera, Carlos Santana and Martina Arroyo – were of Latino origin. Santana and Arroyo were selected in 2013 after the Center was publically shammed by Latino organizations, particularly by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.

Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, told Fox News Latino that Moreno’s honor was “long overdue” and he is delighted that it has happened.

“Finally,” he said. “It’s a reminder that the Kennedy Center has not been as inclusive in more than 30 years.”

Sanchez, who called out the Center’s former president Michael Kaiser in the past, praised its new president Deborah Rutter for being committed to bringing more diversity on all levels. He called Moreno’s selection a “tribute” to Rutter’s leadership.

Along with Moreno’s honor, Sanchez said singers Julio Iglesias, Linda Rondstant, Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan, Joan Baez and actors Edward James Olmos and Andy Garcia are just among the artists he believes still need to be honored.

“It’s a shame Celia Cruz and Tito Puente couldn’t be recognized with the honor because they have passed away,” he said. “There is wealth of opportunity to honor Latinos in the future … We are now seeing that Latinos have arrived and have a seat at the table.”

The Kennedy Center Honors will be awarded in a gala performance Dec. 6 in Washington, featuring top entertainers. The show will be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS.

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