At the same time, consider:
●The Oscars. Looking at the top four annual awards — best actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress (to be comparable with the five or six annual Kennedy Center honorees) — the winners since 1978 include Mercedes Ruehl, Benicio Del Toro, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. (Ferrer, Quinn and Moreno won in previous years.) No Latinos have won honorary lifetime achievement awards since 1978.
●The Tonys. Counting best actor and actress for musical and play, the winners since 1978 include Chita Rivera (twice), Mercedes Ruehl, Paulo Szot and David Alvarez. No lifetime achievement awards went to Latinos since 1978.
●The Emmys. In the categories of best actor and actress in a prime-time comedy and drama series, the winners since 1978 have included America Ferrera.
●The Grammys. Counting best record, best album and best new artist, winners since 1978 have included Carlos Santana, Christina Aguilera and Esperanza Spalding. Recipients of lifetime achievement honors (including posthumous ones) have included Andres Segovia, Pablo Casals, Tito Puente, Joan Baez and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
The Grammys, of course, customized endlessly expanding channels to honor Latinos. Within the main Grammy Awards, the single category called best Latin recording grew to best Latin pop album, best Latin rock/alternative, best Latin urban, best tropical Latin, best regional Mexican, best Tejano, best Norteno and best Banda. In addition, the parallel universe of the Latin Grammys was born in 2000.
Yet the Kennedy Center Honors and the other top non-ethnically defined prizes are coveted exactly because they reward national, mainstream achievement and impact.
“These awards, like so many others, serve as a family photo album of America and Americana,” says actor Esai Morales (“La Bamba,” 1987), who co-founded the Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in 1997 with actors Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, Merel Julia and Sanchez. The foundation has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to Latino students pursuing graduate degrees in the arts.
The under-representation of Latinos and other minorities in the entertainment industry is well-documented. The NAACP sounded an alarm in 1999 when no actor of color was cast in a leading role on prime-time television that season.
“Increasingly, Latinos were added to shows as series regulars,” Sanchez says.
For example, Eva Longoria played a strong Latina co-lead on “Desperate Housewives,” and Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family” reportedly has become the highest-paid actress on television.