Kennedy Center President Apologizes to National Latino Groups and Dialogue Now Begins

It looks like the Kennedy Center finally got the message.

Yesterday the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) received an apology from Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser for his unprofessional response about why the center hadn't honored that many Latinos in the history of its organization. Kaiser had initially told the NHFA's Felix Sanchez to "f•ck off" when Sanchez raised the issue. The Kennedy Center has not honored a Latino in the last decade, and has only honored one Latina (Chita Rivera) and quasi-Latino (Plácido Domingo) in the last 35 years. (UPDATE: Yeah, we got schooled for our snarky comment about Domingo, see below. We are very aware of his contributions to the world and hos beloved he is in Mexico. Our point was a lame attempt at sarcasm, since we were speaking to the issue that even when the Kennedy Center honored a Latino, it felt a bit too safe and mainstream for us. We were not questions Domingo's identity and if some people took it that way, we are sorry.)

This year, the Kennedy Center chose the following 2012 Kennedy Center Honors winners: Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Buddy Guy, Natalia Makarova, and the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Granted, such news didn't sit well with many national Latino organizations like NHFA. So instead of staying quiet, NHFA and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) led the effort in getting Kaiser and the Kennedy Center to pay attention. After some initial responses that led to non-apologies, a coalition of 30 organizations asked for a formal apology. And it finally happened. Here is what NHFA posted tonight on its Facebook:

A story from The News Tribune in Tacoma describes how the apology came about:

But angry Latino groups won a round Friday when Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser finally agreed to send a written apology this week to Felix Sanchez, founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, for using profanity against him in a recent phone call about the awards.

Sanchez also will meet with Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein next week to discuss the concerns about the awards shared by about 30 Hispanic organizations.

“I think the apology was genuine,” Sanchez said…

The story concludes:

In an interview, National Hispanic Leadership Agenda chairman Hector Sanchez (no relation to Felix Sanchez) called the selection process “secretive.” In a letter to Rubenstein, he said the absence of Latino honorees was “condemnable, and using profanity to escape responsibility is despicable.”

Felix Sanchez said that Kaiser had resisted efforts by Latino groups over the last two years to push for a meeting, saying that the honors could not be the object of lobbying for any individual. Felix Sanchez said they were not pushing for any one performer, only those of Hispanic heritage.

“I assure you that the concerns raised by Mr. Sanchez were heard and will be given serious consideration,” Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said in an email.

The Washington Post also covered the story yesterday. Here is the link.

Decision 2012: Latinos Missing in Action on Sunday Morning Network News Shows

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – Last March 2011, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) launched the Art of Politics Impact Project to address the lack of Latino commentators and guests on the four network Sunday news shows: ABC's This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, FOX News Sunday, and NBC's Meet The Press. The Art of Politics Impact Project is being implemented in collaboration with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Being Latino (BL), The Libre Initiative (TLI) and 16 other national Latino organizations.

After reviewing 149 broadcasts over 9 months, NHFA found that only 10 Latino men were invited as guests and commentators. Most of them appeared more than once and some were invited both as guest and commentator. The individual breakdown by show is as follows: ABC's This Week included 5 Latinos; CBS's Face the Nation (1) had 2; FOX News Sunday had 4; and NBC's Meet The Press had 7.

Latinos accounted for 5 percent of the combined number of appearances in these four shows. However, if Juan Williams, a regular FOX commentator, is subtracted from this equation, Latino appearances on Sunday morning shows drop to 2 percent.

NHFA and its key partner organizations met individually with the executive producers of each Sunday show and in three instances with the staff of the broader news divisions. "While all networks expressed a desire to include more Latino guests and commentators," said Felix Sanchez, NHFA Chairman and Co-founder "the networks have not kept pace with the demographic reality of the Nation. For example, in 2010 the Latino vote had a greater impact on Congressional and Senate races than the Tea Party, but that analysis came after the mid-term elections, not before," said Sanchez.

The Sunday news shows summarize the week's top political stories and preview the upcoming week's news narrative. These network centerpiece news shows impact and influence the top national political issues of the day.

"Decision 2012 is upon us and every Sunday morning Latino voices are absent from key interviews and from political discussions," said Esai Morales, actor and NHFA Co-founder. "Not only are the networks missing an important part of the story, but they are passing up an opportunity to increase Hispanic viewership across all news shows," concluded Morales.

For nine months, NHFA categorized the guests and commentators on the four network news shows. The extensive findings are included in our report available at www.artofpolitics.us.  

"While Latinos occasionally appear on these shows, the networks are inconsistent in whom they book as Latino guests or commentators," said Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, NHFA's Director of Media Diversity Initiatives, "Although there are minute fluctuations over the 9-month period, the data clearly shows that Latino presence on network Sunday talk shows is flat."

About NHFA: The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 by actors Esai Morales, Sonia Braga, Jimmy Smits, Merel Julia and Washington, D.C. attorney Felix Sanchez to promote Latinos both in front of and behind the camera.

(1) Face The Nation's 30-minute format limits the number of guest and commentators that can be invited to the show.

Contact: Gretchen Sierra-Zorita
[email protected] 
202-293-8330 Office