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Carlos Santana Among Kennedy Center Honorees In Breakthrough For Latino Artists

The inclusion of Santana and opera singer Martina Arroyo is seen as a landmark change for Latino organizations that have blasted the Kennedy Center for honoring only two Hispanics out of 180 artists in the past 34 years.

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Carlos Santana, Billy Joel, Shirley Maclaine, Martina Arroyo and Herbie Hancock have been chosen for Kennedy Center Honors, considered the nation’s highest honor for those who influence American culture through the arts.

But it is the inclusion of iconic musician Santana and legendary opera singer Arroyo which is making waves. Latino organizations have blasted the Kennedy Center for choosing only two Hispanic artists out of 180 in the previous 34 years.

In a statement to BuzzFeed, Felix Sanchez, the chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, praised the selections:

The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) congratulates the Kennedy Center Honors for its selection of such an impressive array of diverse Honorees. In particular, we applaud the selection of Carlos Santana, an iconic musical performer who defined a generation. Similarly, we congratulate Martina Arroyo's selection, a renowned Opera singer who broke color line barriers and whose story has never been fully told or appreciated. The Kennedy Center Honors should be credited today with presenting a more modern artistic landscape that inclusively represents the artistic achievements of this great nation.


The Kennedy Center changed its selection process in May after pressure and criticism over how it had previously selected honorees.

Kevin Wolf / AP

It decided to begin seeking recommendations from the public for the first time in the award's 35-year history and allowed for online recommendations. The center also formed a special honors committee, including former honorees Chita Rivera and Yo-Yo Ma, along with opera singer Harolyn Blackwell, dancer Damian Woetzel and two center board members.

Lisa Navarrete, spokesperson for National Council of La Raza, says the selections are heartening:

It says there is a lot of talent in the Latino community that has had a tremendous impact on our culture. Someone like Martina Arroyo who is an icon in the fine arts, Carlos Santana who had an enormous influence on rock music. This is what we've been saying all along. There is a lot of talent deserving of recognition in our communities and if they amended their process it would increase the diversity of the nominees. This is long overdue, an important step forward and we couldn't be more pleased.

I guess people understand that Santana is not just a Mexican guitar player — I bring a collective-consciousness awareness agenda with me. I grew up with the generation of Woodstock and Bob Marley, 'One Love,' and 'Imagine,' John Lennon. I am one of them, and we don't do what we do to be commercial or to be popular or to be cute. It's not entertainment or show business for us. For us, it's a calling.

NHFA's Sanchez says Arroyo, below, and Santana, are just the beginning and he has some suggestions for future years.

AP Images

"Rita Moreno, Julio Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, Sonia Braga, Edward James Olmos," would be a good start, he says.

The honorees will be saluted during a star-studded celebration at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 15. The gala will be taped to air on Dec. 29 on CBS.

Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at

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