The Kennedy Center honors will take place this Sunday, but its lack of inclusion granted to Latinos has kept supporters vigilante and agitated for an answer.
In its 35 years, the Kennedy Center has awarded two Latinos out of 170 honorees, which includes Placido Domingo and Chita Rivera. There is also only one Latina that presides with the board of trustees. This Sunday evening, once again, it’s expected that there will be a lack of diversity on the prestigious award list in what is being likened to an Oscar night in Washington D.C.
“Even when the Kennedy name is associated with outreach to the Latino community, it’s sad when individuals charged with maintaining that legacy were themselves not open to Latino inclusion,” said Felix Sanchez, founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
“I hope that this is the last Kennedy Center Honors event that ever excludes Latinos from their rightful place amongst the honors.”
Latino Groups vow transparency
When Sanchez questioned the head honcho at the Kennedy Center president Michael G. Kaiser this fall about the need to address the fact that not many Latinos have received recognition, he was insulted and the phone was slammed.
To that Sanchez proceeded to take the debate with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and advocacy coalitions such as the National Council of La Raza in collaboration with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which is composed of 30 organizations. The charge being that there was an attempt to mollify criticism of why the Center was deliberately leaving out Latinos from its awards.
The NHLA’s chairman Hector Sanchez sent a letter on Oct. 17 – endorsed by 24 Latinos groups – to the Kennedy Center commission chairman Rubenstein in an effort to address pressing concerns. The first three concerns would require disciplinary action against Kaiser, the second would require an internal task force to evaluate the selection process regarding the Kennedy honorees, and the third is adding senior producers to its Honors production team who understand “inclusive diversity.”
A secretive process?
“We still don’t understand and have never been comprised as to how they plan to bring this process more into the open as opposed to keeping it a secretive process,” Sanchez said.
In the last couples of weeks, news reports indicate that the Kennedy Center hired a Latino PR firm, met with members of CHC and established an artistic panel that includes “diverse cultural leaders” and a new committee on the board of trustees that would look into input from “outsiders” on the selection process before the 2013 nominating season.
Sanchez indicates that this sounds positive, but they have not included details that would allow them to verify and understand who is reviewing the scope of their concerns, whether its the artistic committee or the internal task force. They’re hoping to meet with them in the Spring to get an update, but the Kennedy Center would have to deliver more concrete results.
“That stems the frustration,” he said. “They have been slow moving and they have not really focused on the issues that we have asked them to address.We recommended that they have independent voices from outside of the board named to that taskforce, but that was not done.”
“They chose not to do it. Instead, they created an artist committee, but they haven’t released the names of who is on that artist committee,” he added.
Kennedy Center enjoys close relationships with Congress and the White House
Critics shed a light on the show’s creator and producer George Stevens J.R., as the point person who can explain why in 33 of its 35 shows, Latinos have been excluded. Yet, the Kennedy Center has refused to grant the press an interview. Stevens is also the co-chair on the president’s committee on Arts and Humanities.
The Center is a private non-profit, but it’s also federally funded enjoying close relationships with the White House and Congress. The 35th annual event being held Sunday night in Washington D.C. will bring along prominent guests including the President and the First Lady. Over the weekend, there will be outside ceremonies at the State Department and the White House.
Aside from a social issue, it’s also a political debate. Sanchez explained it’s expected that if the Kennedy Center wants to continue operating they’re better off heeding such warnings considering that the Kennedy Center has a board where 50 percent is appointed by the president and 50 percent appointed by Congress.
“There is such a commingled relationship with the Kennedy Center Honors and both the White House and the Congress that it’s really perplexing how the Kennedy Center has really refused to answer and explain how these things occur,” Sanchez said.
“This is an example of where on the left their elitism has equally disregarded and disrespected our presence historically and we see the growing pain of a nation that has come to accept that Latinos belong legitimately at the table. Henceforth, I believe that no one is going to continue to perpetuate this kind of segregation. There’s no turning back now.”