Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kennedy Center Honors Vs. Hispanics: Part II

Too Little, Too Late, or Too Much, Not Soon Enough?

Longtime readers of this site know I have been attentive to those selected for Kennedy Center Honors.  I have made ten recommendations totaling 48 people that I think would be worthy candidates. 

Curiously, neither David Letterman or Led Zeppelin were among them.

This, after all, it touted as America's highest honor for artistic achievement, and as much as I enjoy listening to Whole Lotta Love or reading a Top Ten List, I don't hold either to rank among the ultimate in artistic expression.

While I confess to puzzlement at how David Letterman can be considered iconic but The Betty White not, it is the near-total absence of Hispanic honorees that had me boiling mad.  In 38 years, the KCH has found fit to honor only two Latino/as: Placido Domingo in 2000 and Chita Rivera in 2002.

This exclusion of worthy Hispanic honorees reached a nadir when Felix Sanchez, president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, voiced his concerns about this to Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center.  Mr. Kaiser's response to Mr. Sanchez's concerns:

Go F**k Yourself.

Sanchez went public, and the brouhaha erupted to where this prestigious evening was tainted with perhaps not scandal but deep embarrassment at the casual dismissal of Sanchez's concerns by an organization out of touch with the changing American demographic, though sadly not with the artistic/entertainment world.     

The controversy over the lack of Hispanic Kennedy Center Honorees could not have come at a worse time.  2012 saw more gay characters on television than Hispanic characters relative to the overall population and non-Hispanic Ben Affleck casting himself as the real-life Hispanic Tony Mendez in Argo.  When we're told that David Letterman is more worthy of recognition than Rita Moreno, that was simply one insult too many to endure.

Well, now that the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors has come to a close (and ended with Heart giving a great rendition of Stairway to credit where credit is due),  the Kennedy Center has made a few changes

We now will have an 11-member subcommittee of artists and community leaders to offer recommendations for the Kennedy Center Honors that will be more transparent and open than up till now, when the selection was shrouded in mystery.

I'm of mixed view of this.  On the one hand, I applaud the idea that the selection process will be more open and receptive to candidates of underrepresented backgrounds.  On the other, I don't ever want the Kennedy Center Honors or any other awards show to start selecting a specific number of groups. 

Already reading some comments I see that people believe we're asking for tokens or quotas.  Ignorance of the true issue is rampant.  I read about how 'if we throw in some gang members the Hispanic representation at the KCH would go up'.  No excuse for such bigotry (and THAT'S bigotry).  The real issue that they are ignoring is that the largest minority group continues to be underrepresented in the culture at large due to ideas that Hispanics are 'gang members'. 

There is no excuse for having non-Hispanics play Hispanic roles.
There is no excuse for continuing to have Hispanic actors relegated to stereotypes.
There is no excuse for having Hispanic characters virtually disappear from television while the Hispanic population continues to grow.
There is no excuse for suggesting that Hispanics have not contributed to the arts and American culture at large.

Will this happen?  Certainly that is a risk, but I still hope that the opening up of the selection process will bring a broader perspective to this sheltered organization.  I don't in my heart of hearts believe that there is overt bigotry from the Kennedy Center.  Rather, I think it is ignorance, a lack of understanding that culture includes all ethnic and racial backgrounds.  America, despite its discriminatory laws, had a flourishing African-American culture that contributed to the overall culture.

Now we will finally recognize that Hispanics also have done the same.

That is all, and that is a good thing.

The Best Kennedy Center Honorees Group:
Dylan, Bacall, Villella, Norman, and Heston


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