Carlos Santana (l) and Martina Arroyo (r).

Carlos Santana (l) and Martina Arroyo (r). (Photos/Getty Images)

Latinos celebrate Hispanic Kennedy Center Honors recipients after selection controversy

One year after the Kennedy Center Honors received criticism for excluding Hispanic artists in its annual list of honorees, musicians Carlos Santana and Martina Arroyo have been named 2013 recipients, a decision which has earned praise from Latinos who had demanded major changes in the Honors selection process.

“What we are seeing is the growing pains of a nation,” Felix Sanchez, Chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) told NBC Latino in a statement. “Our community understands push back from the conservative right because it is often so vitriolic, but when push back comes from the liberal left it is equally insidious. Our community touches all four corners of this great nation and our presence and contributions will no longer be denied.”

Maria Lopez De Leon, the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC), echoed Sanchez’s  reaction to the news.

“I am glad to see that the Kennedy Center recognized the multiple dimensions of artistic excellence across American culture,” said De Leon, who was part of a national committee that reviewed and revised the Honors selection process. That process, she said, now “makes a social statement that promotes equity as a key value and stimulates change in cultural policy.”

Following last September’s announcement of the 2012 Honorees– none of which were Hispanic – The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and National Hispanic Leadership Agenda helped create a coalition of over 30 Latino advocacy groups to petition the Kennedy Center Honors to revise its nomination and selection process of Honorees. Citing the fact that only two Latinos had been among 186 Kennedy Center honorees over the last 35 years, activists protested that “secrecy” surrounding the selection process had “created a virtual lock-out of Latino artists.”

“Music brings hope, joy, and brotherhood to the world. I would say that in their own way, artists and musicians bring people in the world together like most world leaders can’t. And that makes a real difference. I am so proud of these 2 Latinos. Que vivan Carlos y Martina!” wrote Adelaida Guajardo on NBC Latino’s Facebook page in response to the news that rock star Santana and opera singer Arroyo were named 2013 Honorees.

RELATED: Kennedy Center Honors’ Latina Trustee creating “dialogue” about selection process

Other Facebook users, like Bill O’Connor, applauded the Kennedy Center’s decision to honor artists truly deserving of the honor.

“I liked Santana before I realized it was important that he’s Hispanic,” commented O’Connor. “Santana, well deserved. Inspired many guitar players thru the years,” wrote Antonio Orta on NBC Latino’s Facebook page.

“It’s about time,” commented Cynthia Caratiini Perez of the news. “We are happy for them. They deserve it.”

Santana, a Mexican-born rock icon, has sold more than 100 million records during his nearly forty-year career. The 66-year-old is the recipient of numerous awards, including ten Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy awards. Santana, whose business ventures include profitable shoe and guitar product lines, was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997. He has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

“It’s better than Fourth of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s,” Santana told the New York Times of the honor.

Arroyo, a soprano who has sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Paris Opera and La Scala in Milan, has also been named a 2013 Kennedy Center Honors recipient. A classically-trained opera star whose career spanned the 1960s through the 1980s, Arroyo is a native of New York City. The globally successful opera star– the daughter of a Puerto Rican father and African American mother – has taught music at the University of California and Louisiana State University. The 76-year-old, who has recorded more than 50 opera and classical music albums, has served on the National Endowment for the Arts and has been a member of the Harvard College Board of Overseers.

Santana and Arroyo join fellow 2013 Honors recipients jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, singer Billy Joel and comedian Shirley MacLaine. All five honorees will receive the award at a dinner on December 7th, which will be followed by a White House reception and ceremony at the Kennedy Center. The 36th annual lifetime achievement ceremony will broadcast on December 29th on CBS.

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