I just visited the Celia Cruz new exhibit that the Smithsonian National Museum of American History unveiled on October 3, 2012. The museum took a vote on May 11-28, 2012, to determine who would be the winner of a Frame an Iconic American contest — with the prize for the winner being a biographical portrait by noted photographic artist Robert Weingarten. With over 11,000 votes cast, Celia was declared the winner – after a strong get-out-the-vote campaign by prominent Hispanic figures, like CNN/CNN en Español political contributor Maria Cardona.
The exhibit consists of a 60 x 90 allegorical collage of different images of Celia at different moments of her professional career. One of the images shows her in a dress with a superimposed Cuban flag that symbolizes the close bond to her Cuban roots. In addition, you’ll also find some of the custom-made shoes that she wore, a trophy containing two rocks of her visit to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in the 1990’s, a Grammy award, and a gold record with Willy Colon.
Interestingly enough, I found out about the unveiling of the Celia exhibit through El Nuevo Herald – a newspaper published in Miami, Florida. The media outlets in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area were silent on this event.
Many have asked the reason for this blackout, considering that the Nation is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. A response to this question could be found in the recent exclusion of Hispanics from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. After being asked by Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, to explain the fact that only two Hispanics had been chosen since 1978 to receive this honor, Kennedy Center Michael M. Kaiser told him to go “f—“ himself. Such disrespect of Hispanics is not uncommon in many parts of the country. In fact, many in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area have never heard of Celia Cruz before, while others may associate her with being just another undocumented immigrant. Overcoming this immense ignorance of the Hispanic culture and of the many contributions that Hispanics have made to the fabric of the U.S. is a work in progress.
One of the songs featured in the exhibit is “Latinos en Estados Unidos” – a call to unity to Hispanics in the U.S. While recognizing her Cuban heritage, Celia made the world her stage. The incomparable “sabor” in her voice did not discriminate against any group. Her “Azucar” chants served as a call to action to fight the fights that needed to be fought.
She never gave up on her dream of seeing the day when freedom and democracy would be restored to her beloved Cuba. And, this explains why she will always live in the hearts of individuals who enjoy life to the fullest, who love salsa music and like to express themselves, and who speak truth to power to right the wrongs in any Latin American and Caribbean country.
The exhibit will be at the Smithsonian – located at the corner of 14th and Constitution Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC — through May 2013. Please help me spread the word about this exhibit so that we can pay our respects to our own Queen – who is a symbol of “lo major de lo nuestro” (the very best that Hispanics have to offer to the U.S. and to the world community).