I was deeply honored when President Obama appointed me to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. President Kennedy’s historic vision and leadership in the Latino community is widely known and serving on the board of his presidential memorial is both a privilege and a challenge.
As a Latina whose father was a flamenco dancer and mom a mariachi singer, my life has always celebrated the arts and the great artistic contributions of Latino artists from the U.S., Mexico and the Americas. I was so excited to join the board and hoped to share the immense talent present in our community with this preeminent cultural organization in the U.S.
As I began my tenure on the Board, I was truly impressed and surprised by the tremendous multicultural body of work featured at the Kennedy Center. On an annual basis, there are more than 2,000 performances on its nine stages, artistic programs that represent every discipline and genre within the performing arts.
As for Hispanic presence, I was elated to learn of the many Latino programs and performances Kennedy Center President Michael Keiser features consistently in his annual line up. There was a four-year long festival of Latin American arts entitled AmericArtes including presentations of renowned an up-and-coming Hispanic artists, Latino music, dance and theater, ever present on Kennedy Center stages. There are also countless artist management and educational programs that outreach to our communities that have been making a difference for decades.
With this as a backdrop, it was quite a contrast when the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors were announced and fierce criticism erupted over the longstanding omission of Latino artists from this renown recognition. There was no denying it, with only two Hispanic recipients honored over more than three decades, there was clearly an issue of inclusion and transparency that demanded serious scrutiny and address. Despite the Center›s impressive commitment to diverse multicultural programming and community outreach, the Honors process was clearly in need of review and evolution.
I understood all too well the outcry in my community. We have such immense talent to honor and celebrate in all realms of the arts, this oversight from the most prestigious arts center in the nation, cut to the very core of the challenges we have often battled as a community, to be seen and acknowledged for our vast and deep contributions to all facets of American culture.
Understandably, the nation’s top Hispanic cultural and political leaders joined forces demanding answers and change. Many reached out to me with their frustration, mandates, counsel and concern and I welcomed the opportunity to access the depth of community leadership to engage in meaningful debate and search for solutions. It offered the power that comes from true diversity.
I could not have been more impressed by the Hispanic leaders that pressed forward to advocate for our community. Similarly, I felt real admiration for Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein and the board, who swiftly orchestrated an immediate review of the selection process.
Self-examination is never easy but I witnessed a review that was thorough and deliberative and committed to a serious look at the question of inclusivity and diversity. The Center has implemented a multi-stage process that reaches out to the board of trustees, former honorees, members of the Artists Committee and to the general public for recommendations regarding potential Honorees.
A special advisory committee will review all of the recommendations and produce a list of roughly two dozen potential Honorees.The executive committee of the Board then ultimately makes final selections for the annual awards. The inclusion of new voices across the spectrum of arts disciplines will protect the selection process from insularity and encourage recognition of a much broader range of artistic expression.
I am proud of the Center for the speed and thoughtfulness in responding to this challenge, I am proud of the Hispanic leadership that worked so hard to achieve this solution and I am optimistic together we have implemented a responsive and responsible plan to address the problem. My hope is we have done it so well, perhaps we will be held up as a model of diversity for other institutions facing similar challenges, to follow.
I am privileged to serve on the Kennedy Center Board and I look forward to expanding and broadening its reach in the Latino cultural community and all communities. The Kennedy Center is a cultural gem in which all Americans can be proud. I can›t wait for the next Kennedy Center Honors. I know it will be grander than ever.
By Giselle Fernandez
In May of this year, the American Latino Heritage Fund of the National Park Foundation embarked on an exciting social media adventure to create national awareness and engage diverse audiences to visit, explore and enjoy our country’s most phenomenal treasures: America’s national parks! While America’s more than 400 national parks welcome millions of visitors annually, multicultural communities are vastly underrepresented.
With full support from sponsors ARAMARK Parks and Destinations and outdoor retailer, REI, the Fund put forward a national call for bloggers to apply for the opportunity to participate in one of three national park adventures focusing on education, park stewardship, outdoor recreation and exploration, all the while highlighting historic American Latino contributions at each site. Dubbed the @American_Latino Expedition, we never imagined the success, buzz and positive feedback that would ensue.
Within four weeks, more than 200 individuals (including families) from across the country and from all walks of life applied. Each application highlighted personal stories and hopes to explore America’s national parks. While some had never visited a single national park and others had visited many, they all shared a common desire: they wanted to connect with the special places that tell the story of America.
Following the vision carved into the arch at the entrance to the very first national park, Yellowstone, ALHF and our partners are committed to ensuring that our national parks are indeed “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. Every application affirmed this belief. People everywhere want to enjoy, visit and explore our national parks.
There is also a real desire to explore and discover how America’s national parks tell the story of American Latino contributions and this year’s participants did an unbelievable job sharing what they learned, explored and experienced in our national parks with diverse audiences across the nation.
Editor and co-founder of MomsLA.com, Yvonne Condes, her husband Carl and their two sons Alec and Henry together formed the Condes Campers and visited Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado August 11 through 14. Yvonne gave us a family’s perspective as they explored Mesa Verde’s iconic cliff dwellings and learned about Mexican-Spanish explorers Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante’s travels from Santa Fe to California in 1776.The creator of Pearmama.com and contributor to Mamiverse.com, Denise Cortes, led the group Latina BlogStars, comprised of Kathy Cane-Murillo, founder of CraftyChica.com; Monique Frausto, creator of BlogsbyLatinas.com; and Nicole Presley, creator of Presley’s Pantry. They ventured off to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona/Utah August 18 through 21. Denise, Kathy, Monique and Nicole did an incredible job documenting their adventures in Lake Powell and throughout this entire national park, including unique perspectives on outdoor recreation, recycled art projects, fashion, food and lifestyle. They too gained a better understanding of the 1776 Domínguez-Escalante Expedition.
And last, but certainly not least, sisters and co-founders of BrownGirlsFly.com, Chelle and Crystal Roberts created Travelistas in Nature with their friends Ana Serafin-Gil, founder of TravelingLatina.com, and Carol Cain, founder of GirlGoneTravel.com. They visited Olympic National Park in Washington, August 25 through 28. While they had traveled all over the globe, these travelistas were not very familiar with America’s national parks and loved the opportunity to explore the incredible landscapes, and learn about the rich history the park keeps alive such as the stories of Juan José Pérez Hernández, a Spanish sailor who in 1774 was the first European to record an official expedition along the entire western coast of North America. I highly suggest you check out their blogs at www.alhf.org/alex13 and see how the adventures played out on social media by searching the hashtag #ALEx13 on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. And as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage this month, I hope you will consider your national parks as the perfect setting to honor the historic contributions of American Latinos to our great country.
Midy Aponte is the Executive Director of the American Latino Heritage Fund.