Schenectady County

Event honors Hispanic achievements

While Desi Arnaz ruled the sitcom world with his real-life wife Lucille Ball in the 1950s, there see

While Desi Arnaz ruled the sitcom world with his real-life wife Lucille Ball in the 1950s, there seems to be a shortage of Latino entertainment stars today, according to a local Hispanic arts advocate.

Laudelina Martinez, owner of an art gallery in Troy and member of the New York State Council on the Arts, said more multiculturalism is needed.

“The 8 to 9 hour, which is the prime time hour, is according to some studies the least ethnically diverse on television,” she said Sunday night at the Schenectady Hispanic Heritage Committee’s “Una Noche Elegante” scholarships award gala. The third annual event was held at the GE Theatre at Proctors.

There are too few Latino actors playing Hispanic roles, Martinez said. Latino actor Jimmy Smits is on a new fall show “Outlaw” that is soon to be canceled. There are also Hispanic actors in supporting roles on television shows such as “The Closer” and “Without a Trace.”

Martinez lauded children’s television shows like “Sesame Street” for doing a better job of incorporating Hispanics into the cast. She also praised the contributions of Hispanics who are working behind the scenes as network executives at CBS, NBC and the new Oprah Winfrey Network cable channel that launches in January.

Hispanics are also prominent in a variety of other medium including music and movie star Jennifer Lopez, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and writer Nilo Cruz, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

“We must remember and let the next generation know that we have work to do but we also have a great deal to be proud of,” she said.

The committee also handed out three awards to distinguished Latinos.

Jose Cruz of Albany received the Unsung Hero Award for his work to organize Latin jazz concerts throughout the Capital Region. Cruz is a professor of political science at the University at Albany and a percussionist in his spare time. He started the concerts five years ago because there was no place where that style of music was heard locally.

“It’s great to see that the Latino contribution to music and the arts is more widely recognized,” he said.

Jonathan Lajas of Albany received the Rising Star Award for his work running a day camp for students during the summer. Lajas, a cooperative teacher at Albany Community Charter School, said he is doing what he would like to do and did not expect to be honored.

Mike Asencio of Latham received the Entrepreneurial Award for his work as president of the Albany Latin Festival. Asencio said there was nothing like this event in the area until this came along.

In addition, the event honored the late Bobby Rivera, who served on the boards of the American Cancer Society, Hispanic Outreach Services and Centro Civico. It also showcased Latino musicians including Dashira Cortes, Julianna Hernandez, Latisia Rivera, Tatiana Medina and music by DJ Craig.

The event awards $1,500 in scholarships to college-bound youth. Students are required to write an essay about what it feels like to be a Latino student and how they plan to give back to the committee.

Chairwoman M. Ebony Belmar said the committee is not necessarily looking for straight-A students. They want to reward students who may have overcome academic or behavioral difficulties.

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