Hispanic Heritage month brought alive at D.C.'s Kennedy Center.

WASHINGTON — In a gala evening of celebration, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation honored eight distinguished individuals at the Kennedy Center Wednesday evening, from Emmy-award winning actress America Ferrera to legendary television host "Don Francisco," soccer star Cuauhtémoc Blanco and a posthumous nod to educator Jaime Escalante.

Also among the honorees: Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who won the “Leadership Award” for standing up for Latinos, especially during the contentious immigration debate, and who contrasted the image of the illegal Hispanic worker with the accomplishments of the honorees.

"Fighting for immigration reform and fair treatment of America's working families is as hard a job as it has ever been,” said Gutierrez. “When you see how unpopular the U.S. Congress is and when you read the hate mail my office gets every day from the vocal minority in the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino crowd, it's nice to get a little recognition and be with people who appreciate what we are trying to do to make America better, more welcoming, and more just."

Jose Antonio Tijerino, the non-profit foundation’s president and chief executive officer said, “We are thrilled to honor yet another class of inspiring Latino leaders.”

Tijerino said that “more than ever” it is important to promote the accomplishments and contributions of Latinos.

The winners, in addition to Gutierrez:

Ferrera, the actress who gained fame in ABC’s Ugly Betty won the “Inspira” or inspiration award for her positive image of Latina women.

Alejandro Sanz, international recording artist from Spain and winner of the “Vision” award for using his celebrity to promote charitable works, especially for Haitian relief.

Juan Luis Guerra, a Dominican recording artist, won the arts award for his pioneering pop style of merengue and bolero and Afro-pop/Latin fusion.

Mario Kreutzberger, better known as “Don Francisco,” the Univision network’s most famous host, won the “Legend” award.

Blanco, considered to be Mexico’s best soccer player of the last 20 years, won the sports award in recognition of his contributions to the sport.

Escalante, the innovative Los Angeles educator who died in March, was saluted with the math and science award for his groundbreaking work teaching calculus to inner city Latino kids. He was played in the movie “Stand and Deliver” by Edward James Olmos.

Monika Mantilla, a Colombian-born businesswoman who is president and c.e.o. of New York-based Altura Capital Group, won the business award for her efforts to ignite the economic firepower of the Latino community.

Musical performances featured Luis Enrique, Belinda, Jenni Rivera, JenCarlos Canela, and Jorge Celedón and afterwards, there was an after-party at the Kennedy Center.