News Column

Latino Inaugural a Party Within a Party

Jan 15, 2013

Maria Recio

George Lopez

They helped elect him to a second term. Now, Latinos are going to make a splash at President Barack Obama's second inauguration as never before.

Latino Inaugural 2013 is being billed as a party within a party that will celebrate Hispanic arts and culture while recognizing the emerging strength of Latino voters. And organizers are reveling in the recognition of the critical role the nation's fastest growing minority group had in Obama's re-election.

"The Latino inauguration right now is the talk of the town," said Andres Lopez, a Democratic activist and Puerto Rican businessman who is an executive producer of the headline event of the three-day celebration, a gala at the Kennedy Center.

"This election was a tipping point for the Latino community," Lopez said.

Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide. He won by even wider margins in battleground states, according to exit polls.

"The Latino community was critical to the president's election," said freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas. "It's also great to see Latino arts highlighted in this way. It shows that Latinos are being included as never before."

Castro is the identical twin of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Both Castro brothers will be at the Kennedy Center event Sunday night.

The gala will be hosted actress Eva Longoria, who is also a co-chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The event will feature legendary Latino performers Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera - who will perform "Bosom Bodies" - comic George Lopez and singers Marc Anthony and Jose Feliciano, among others.

"It will include many of the most influential, popular artists in our community," said Henry Munoz III, a Texas attorney who is an executive producer of the evening. It will be televised live on Univision and live-streamed on Facebook and the LiveStream website.

Rivera wanted to be a part of it so much that she did something she has never done in a 50-year Broadway career - she asked producers for a leave from the show she's performing in, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," for a few days in order to be in the Latino inaugural.

"I'm just so excited about seeing all these Latin people," Rivera said in an interview. "I simply have to do this. I get an opportunity to be part of history."

Rivera, who became a star on Broadway with "West Side Story," and Moreno, who won an Oscar for the same role in the movie version, are often confused with each other. They're "great friends," Rivera said.

"It's one of those blessed moments of mine," said Rivera, who is also a Kennedy Center award honoree and a Medal of Arts winner.

Latino Inaugural 2013 will include a day of symposiums, called Futuro, or future, talks with discussions about immigration, education and the economy at the Organization of American States.

Some activists had mixed feelings about holding the entertainment gala event at the Kennedy Center. The arts center has been under fire for only recognizing two Hispanic artists in 35 years - including Rivera in 2002 - for the nation's highest art award, the Kennedy Center Honors.

The Kennedy Center this month announced a realignment of the selection process for honorees, with more diverse committees to make nominations, as well as to invite more Latino performers.

"I applaud the Kennedy Center for being co-producers of the event and, in the whole spirit of the inaugural, giving the opportunity for people to come together," said Munoz.

Munoz is hoping to make headway during the inauguration for a cultural touchstone to him and many in the Hispanic community: the National Museum of the American Latino.

The museum needs congressional approval to move ahead for a site on the National Mall and to begin fundraising - a bill cleared the Senate but not the House in the last Congress. "My great hope is that out of this weekend there will be a call to reintroduce this legislation," Munoz said.

But first, Latinos are going to show Washington how to party.

Source: (c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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