Friday, April 12, 2024

Four Latinos Celebrated for their Deep Cultural Imprint in the U.S.

Four Latinos are recipients of one of the country’s highest honors. Acclaimed music artist José Feliciano, visual artist and muralist Judith Baca, and graphic artist and painter Antonio Martorell were honored with the National Medal of Arts. At the same time, poet Richard Blanco was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

Music icon José Feliciano, 77, is known for his chart-topping hits like “Feliz Navidad” and his rendition of “Light my Fire.” The Puerto Rican musician’s career has spanned 60 years, and he is decorated with more than 45 gold and platinum records, multiple Grammy wins and nominations, and Billboard’s first Legend Award.

“Blind since birth, he picked up a guitar at age 9. A pioneering art — artist bridging cultures and styles, winning Grammys, and opening doors for generations of Latino artists and the heart of our nation,” Biden said of Feliciano.

Judith Baca’s work has deeply imprinted California’s cultural history. Baca, 76, is known for “The Great Wall of Los Angeles,” a mural focusing on California’s ethnic history.

Baca is the artistic director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center, or SPARC, Los Angeles’ first mural program, which she helped co-found. Her large-scale public artworks focus on the lives and communities of diverse Californians, including women and youth, and immigrant communities.

“Her groundbreaking murals depict the strength and scope of human nature and tell the forgotten stories — and tell a fuller story of who we are as Americans,” Biden said of Baca’s work.

Puerto Rican painter, graphic artist, and writer Antonio Martorell was honored for his contributions as “one of Puerto Rico’s greatest cultural ambassadors,” Biden said.

“His work challenges and unites people across languages, classes, and generations,” Biden said. “His creations span genres — painting, writing, sculpture, theater design. Always daring to try something new while building on what came before.”

The National Medal of Arts — given to Feliciano, Baca, and Martorell — is awarded to those who have contributed to the excellence and growth of the arts in the U.S.

Richard Blanco — the nation’s first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet — was awarded the National Humanities Medal, recognizing people who have helped deepen and broaden humanities with contributions in history, literature, and philosophy, among other subjects.

The Cuban American poet’s work does not shy away from controversial topics like immigration, race, and gun violence, hoping to make sense of the issues.

“His poetry bridges cultures and languages — a mosaic of our past, present, and future — reflecting a nation that is hectic, colorful, and still becoming,” Biden said. “Richard Blanco’s powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our nation’s highest ideals.”

NBC News