Activists angry over lack of Latinos among Kennedy Center honorees

Two years ago, Latino groups upset about the dearth of Latino honorees for the Kennedy Center’s lifetime achievement in the arts awards won changes in the selection process that last year resulted in two Latino artists winning the prestigious prizes.

So it came as a shock to Hispanic activists Thursday when the announcement of this year’s five did not again include a Latino artist.

“It is incomprehensible that the entire Kennedy Center board voted for these honorees without any Latino participation after decades of exclusion,” Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, said in an interview.

Out of 195 artists, actors, singers, dancers and other performers singled out by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts since the program began in 1978, four have been Hispanics.

Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said via email, “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.”

Guitarist and songwriter Carlos Santana and opera singer Martina Arroyo were among the honorees last year.

Receiving the award this year will be singer Al Green, who is African-American; actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks; singer-songwriter Sting; comedian and actor Lily Tomlin; and ballerina Patricia McBride, who’s now associate artistic director and master teacher at Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina.

Upset over the lack of Latino honorees two years ago, Sanchez had gotten into a heated telephone conversation with then-Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, who hung up on him. An apology and meetings with Hispanic organizations followed. The result was the center restructured the nominations process, allowing the public to nominate artists on its website instead of relying on the recommendations of past winners and center officials. It also created a Latino Advisory Council.

Sanchez, a member of the Latino Advisory Council, which he said has only met once, said that the turn of events this year “shatters your trust in the change that was promised.”

Hector Sanchez (no relations to Felix Sanchez), chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, said in an interview that the group he leads, a coalition of 39 national Hispanic organizations, would send a letter this week to the new president of the Kennedy Center, Deborah Rutter.