George Lopez: Obama is a Latino

In a star studded celebration, “La Casa Blanca” celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. The Obama family invited hot celebs such as Eva Longoria, Jimmy Smits, Gloria Estefan to the White House for an evening of Latin music. In brief remarks before the music took over, President Obama said about Latin music: “It moves us, and it tends to make us move a little bit ourselves.” President Obama said that while Latin music is difficult to define because it is so varied, the rhythms speak to everyone. Obama concluded with, “In the end, what makes Latin music great is the same thing that’s always made America great. The unique ability to celebrate our differences while creating something new.”


Obama addresses audience with clips from performances (PBS)

Performers for the evening included Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, Los Lobos of of “La Bamba” fame, José Feliciano, Mexican diva Thalía, the reggaetón singer Tito El Bambino, and percussionist Pete Escovedo. The band was led by Sheila E. and Mr. Escovedo’s daughter.


In Performance at the White House: Fiesta Latina, (Associated Press)

Latina sensation Thalia even got a few rounds on the dance floor out of Obama after she asked: “Mr. President, with all due respect, will you dance with me?”

George Lopez did a stand up bit that audience members rolling in the aisles. The mood was so light last night that Lopez even remarked that the President was really Latino without knowing it :

“He’s living in a house that’s not his…

Says he’s going to change, but nobody believes him…

He’s left his house white because he can’t decide what color to paint it…

Very Latino.”

Observation of Hispanic Heritage Month began in the Johnson administration with a one week period starting September 15. September 15 was originally selected to kick off celebrations because the week following encompasses Independence Day for seven Latin American countries. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all declared independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. The day also marks the five political bodies incorporated the Federal Republic of Central America, also known as the United Provinces of Central America.

George Lopez: Obama is a LatinoWhile free from Spain, the Republic was soon annexed by the Mexican empire. It was a republican democracy until 1840 when civil war and a lack of national identity forced the political factions to dissolve the union.

Mexico’s independence from the Spanish is celebrated a day later on September 16 every year. Chile observes independence on September 18.

During the Reagan administration, observation of Hispanic Heritage expanded to cover an entire month: from September 15 to October 15. Over the years, however, most institutions, colleges, and television networks simply celebrate it in the month of October.

According to an AP report, Puerto Rican virtuoso guitarist and composer, Jose Feliciano, said that while it was great that Latin music was being honored, Latin performers should be “part of the whole” and not just brought out for Hispanic Heritage celebrations. “It’s about time. After all, the only time that Latinos are called upon is when the elections are around, Feliciano said.

Feliciano’s sentiment echoes a frequent (and legitimate) complaint of the Hispanic community : they are only trotted out like show ponies each election season. For example, George W. Bush made sky high promises to the Hispanic community during his first presidential campaign about immigration reform. Touting a compassionate conservatism, his message of hope for legalization had certain portions of the Hispanic community in a frenzy. Bush made promises, such as instituting a more compassionate and flexible guest worker program and legalization for undocumented immigrants. While these were goals that many in the immigration community would welcome, even liberals were skeptical that such change could happen as quickly as Bush led Hispanic communities to believe.

After winning in 2000, while policies with words such as “amnesty” and “legalization” were being negotiated and later dying on the House and Senate Floors, not a peep was heard from President Bush. While understandably Bush cannot legislate from his executive branch of the American tree, there are ways in which he could have demonstrated support and sustained interest after he was done shaking Hispanic hands and kissing bambinos during election season.

Furthermore, the policies instituted during his administration took a disproportionately high amount of funding away from programs which assist immigrant communities. Republican budget cuts gutted immigrant advocacy and immigrant rights groups non-profit organizations which relied on government funding. According to the Census Bureau, at fifteen percent of the country’s population, the various Hispanic communities collectively comprise the United States’ largest minority group and largest immigrant population.. The blows to immigrant community support was a direct slap in the face to the Hispanic community.

This example illustrates one of many ways in which America needs to do more than celebrate Hispanic culture for a few weeks per year. To Michelle Obama’s credit, “In Performance at the White House: Fiesta Latina” is the third installment of White House events to celebrate the richness of American music. The series was launched by the First Lady and has already celebrated jazz and country music. Western classical music is scheduled for November 4th.

The inclusion of Latin music as part of the celebration of America’s musical heritage speaks volumes about a new turn in our country. This is a refreshing change after an administration punctuated by a frenzy to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. Frightened citizens were egged on to send bricks to their representatives in Washington DC to symbolize their desire to get construction of the border wall underway.

Kudos to Michelle Obama and everyone else involved in the event last night. Let’s hope this is not the last time the Hispanic community is remembered before midterm elections.


Shivali Shah, Esq. welcomes your posts, comments, questions, and requests for topics to be covered. She may be reached at

Shivali Shah, Esq. is DC based attorney, women’s rights advocate and immigrants’ rights activist. She’s a founder of Kiran: Domestic Violence and Crisis Services for South Asians in North Carolina (ww more


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