A coalition of 30 national Latino organizations is still waiting for an apology from Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser after he swore at a prominent Hispanic leader.
Kaiser allegedly cursed out Felix Sanchez, the chairman for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Kaiser has since said that he regretted using “strong language” during the tense telephone conversation.
“There is no excuse for Mr. Kaiser’s outburst and it should not and cannot be tolerated,” Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said in a statement sent to Fox News Latino. “He profoundly disrespected our colleague Felix Sanchez and the Latino community, a community that merits inclusion and fairness, not insults, when it comes to one of the nation’s highest cultural honors."
Sanchez said Kaiser told him to “go f*** yourself” after he called the foundation's president to discuss the lack of Latino artists being named Kennedy Center honorees. Kaiser then abruptly hung up.
“Of course, they have no good answer and so it was easy to get infuriated and to simply dismiss me and my criticism of the Kennedy Center honors,” Sanchez said. “Rather than consider that there is no answer, that there is no defense because the actions are indefensible, he resorted to profanity and hanging the phone up on me.”
Kaiser did not return phone calls seeking comment. But John Dow, a spokesman for the Kennedy Center, said the conversation between Sanchez and Kaiser "in no way alters the long-standing commitment to a robust and diverse programming agenda at the Kennedy Center."
"Over the past four decades, the Center has presented performances from a wide range of national and international artists representing an unequalled diversity of cultures, including Latino and Hispanic heritages."
“I’ve spent much of the last 20 years working with organizations of color in this country–African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American…," Kaiser told the Post. "This is a real part of who I am, and so when someone insinuates that I am a racist, it gets me really upset.”
Currently, only two Hispanics out of more than 170 honorees have been selected since 1978. The NHFA and NHLA have sent a letter to the Kennedy Center, President Barack Obama, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus requesting for more Latinos to being recognized.
Sanchez said Kaiser has yet to contact Sanchez personally about what happened.
“First of all, I asked him why are you excluding Latinos and he interpreted that as being accused of racism,” explained Sanchez. “He took that to mean I was implying that he was a racist. Since Latinos are not a race, if I had been going in that direction, I would have been talking about bigotry."
Sanchez said it shows how little Kaiser understands the community.
"And there’s no political name more closely associated with the Latino community than the Kennedy's,” he said.
In 1960, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy released a Spanish-language campaign ad. She traveled to southwest Texas with husband John F. Kennedy to ask for the Mexican-American vote, the first time, Sanchez says, that had ever occurred. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy met with civil rights activist César E. Chávez, also recognized as a champion for migrant workers.
And until his death in 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy promoted immigration rights and pushed for legislation on immigration reform.
During Kaiser’s 12 years as President of the Kennedy Center, only Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and Puerto Rican performer Chita Rivera have been honored.
But Kasier told the Post: “There will be more.”
Dow, the spokesman, said the center and Kaiser himself try hard to be inclusive and enable minority "institutions to develop stronger management teams to ensure their own successes and a vibrant and diverse national cultural life. The Kennedy Center will not waver from its commitment to diversity."
While Kaiser has yet to respond to the coalition’s call for an apology, Sanchez hopes this situation will raise more awareness concerning Latinos being honored, all while improving the selection process at the Kennedy Center.
“When you have a secretive process you get this kind of outcome,” said Sanchez. “We have to shed some sunlight in the selection process and that means giving the responsibility to the Kennedy Center board, which is presidentially elected. And the White House has to be involved and engaged in the selection process as well."
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco