Actress Rita Moreno at the NHFA's 17th Annual Noche de Gala in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 30, 2013.

Actress Rita Moreno at the NHFA’s 17th Annual Noche de Gala in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 30, 2013. (Photo/Getty Images)

Rita Moreno, new talents Aimee Garcia and Nicholas Gonzalez honored

Actors Rita Moreno, Aimee Garcia and Nicholas Gonzalez were honored for their contributions to the arts by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts at their 17th annual Noche de Gala in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

Moreno – the only Latina in history to have earned a Grammy, a Tony, an Oscar,  a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award – received the Raul Julia Award for excellence from the NHFA.

“It’s an honor to receive this,” the 81-year-old said as she accepted her award. “I began in this industry without any mentorship, any guidance. I wish I had had the support of an organization like this when I was starting out.”

RELATED: Rita Moreno to receive SAG Lifetime Achievement Award

The NHFA was founded in 1997 by actors Esai Morales, Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, Merel Julia and attorney Felix Sanchez.  Under Sanchez’s direction, last year the organization launched a highly public campaign for the Kennedy Center Honors to change its selection process and include Latino artists among its honorees after years of historic omission; efforts which lead to the appointment of Carlos Santana and Martina Arroyo as 2013 Honors recipients.

The annual gala and awards ceremony, said Sanchez, was meant to gather Latinos across the arts and politics in support of the NHFA’s mission to “increase support for Hispanic artists.”

“It’s important to recognize how far we’ve come in terms of representation and achievement,” said Sanchez. “But there is still a great amount of work to be done.”

Actor Nicholas Gonzalez.

Actor Nicholas Gonzalez. (Photo/Getty Images)

The gala – held just hours before the government shutdown on midnight – also feted up-and-coming talents Garcia (“Dexter”) and Gonzalez (“Sleepy Hollow”) as role models for a new generation of Latin actors.

“I’m so humbled and honored to be here,” said Gonzalez, a graduate of Stanford University and native of San Antonio, Texas. “To be acknowledged for art by people – my hermanos – that I’ve looked up to since the beginning is a privilege.”

Garcia — who will next appear in a remake of the 1987 film “RoboCop” — echoed Gonzalez’s sentiments.

Actress Aimee Garcia

Actress Aimee Garcia (Photo/Getty Images)

“You can only dream sometimes as far as you can see,” Garcia said in her acceptance speech.

“The decisions I make are not just for my career but for my community.”

RELATED: Latinos celebrate Hispanic Kennedy Center Honors recipients after selection controversy

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