Letters: On Michael Kaiser’s ‘strong language’

Editor’s note: In a Sept. 21 article by David Montgomery, ”Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said Friday that he regretted using “strong language” during a tense telephone conversation last week with Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, when the two men were discussing the lack of Latino artists among the Kennedy Center Honors recipients.” These letters went to press in our Sept. 30 Sunday Arts section before Montgomery’s follow-up story about Kaiser’s apology to Sanchez, which was published in the Sept. 29 Style section.

(Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST) - Michael Kaiser

In his article Sept. 21, David Montgomery said Michael M. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, regretted the “strong language” he used in conversation with Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.

Mr. Kaiser’s regret is not enough; only his resignation. He is neither sufficiently civil nor culturally sensitive to lead an institution named after the man who ushered in Hispanic inclusion. President Obama should convey his displeasure to the board, which should ask for Kaiser’s immediate resignation.

— Juan Andrade Jr.,

U.S. Hispanic Leadership
Institute, Chicago

As the leader of a national Hispanic organization and a board member of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, I’m appalled by the dismissive nature of Mr. Kaiser’s response when asked about his choice of words, but I’m not surprised. You see, I have been a victim of the same type of language exchange by the chief of staff of a senator when our organization took out a series of ads in his state denouncing his inaction to investigate a corporate welfare scheme.

It seems to me that when Hispanic/Latino leaders push back on the “establishment” there is a certain sense of “I can get away with insulting these people, who do they think they are, telling us what to do” supremacy posture. The truth of the matter is we have been too passive in denouncing these types of interactions, but from Mr. Sanchez’s leadership stance we will no longer tolerate the insults.

Although Hispanic Americans cherish and support when the Kennedy Center celebrates our heritage as part of its events lineup, our country is America and we want to see more American artists of Hispanic descent being recognized for their valuable contributions.

— Rafael A. Fantauzzi,

National Puerto Rican Coalition,

Washington

Kaiser indicated that he is outraged when someone insinuates, like Sanchez did, that he is a racist. But the Kennedy Center has chosen only two Hispanics among more than 170 Honorees since 1978. That represents a 1.2 percent Hispanic selection rate in 34 years!

Recently, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management released a report that showed that the Hispanic representation in the federal government had increased by a mere 0.1 percent during the past four years. And they have bragged in numerous media venues that this represents progress and change that we can believe in.

Whether one is dealing with the Kennedy Center, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management or Mr. Kaiser, the bottom line is that their past records with Hispanic initiatives leave a lot to be desired.

— Jorge E. Ponce,

Burke

Mr. Kaiser can pontificate all he wants about his accomplishments, but the fact remains: The Kennedy Center has honored only one Hispanic American (Chita Rivera) since the inception of the awards. (Placido Domingo doesn’t count. Domingo is originally from Spain.) In addition, Mr. Kaiser and the Kennedy Center do not understand that promoting their works in Latin America and Spain does not equate to stepping up to the plate and honoring worthy U.S. Latino candidates who continue to be ignored.

This is about celebrating all the diverse voices of the United States. To think that luminaries such as Santana, Rita Moreno, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades and others have never been honored, but the surviving members of Led Zeppelin will be honored, confirms to me that Mr. Kaiser and the Kennedy Center will never truly comprehend how out of touch they are.

It appears that this time around, many U.S. Latinos are speaking out and are demanding that the Kennedy Center start living in the 21st century. And we aren’t using foul language to get our point across.

— Julio Ricardo Varela,

LatinoRebels.com, Boston

As of the latest census, Hispanics now represent 16 percent of the nation’s population and it is clear that Hispanics continue to play an integral role in the fabric of our nation.

Clearly, when the largest ethnic minority in the country is represented as awardees only 1 percent of the time, there is a real issue with the selection process that must be addressed. I call on the Kennedy Center to outline a clear plan for increasing the diversity of awardees in future Honors and ensure that this institution takes affirmative steps to ensure Kennedy Center Honorees reflect the makeup of America.

The persistent underrepresentation of Hispanics, however, is not the only troubling aspect brought to light by Mr. Montgomery’s article. The terse language used by Mr. Kaiser toward the president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Felix Sanchez, is not just completely inappropriate; it shows a disdain and lack of respect for our community as a whole. The leadership of the Kennedy Center should immediately conduct a formal investigation of this unfortunate incident and determine appropriate disciplinary measures.

— José Calderón,

Hispanic Federation,
New York

 
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