You may not have heard of The Paley Center for Media before this week, but by now they likely hold the record for bringing together the highest concentration of Latino celebrity power in one room, ever. Between presenters like Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Luis Guzmán, Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos, Don Francisco, America Ferrera, and George Lopez, we can comfortably say that the Center’s recent gala for Hispanic Achievement in Television was más chévere than any star-studded Oscar or Emmy ceremony full of canned soundbites and endless closeups of Brad Pitt.
And unlike those more mainstream awards ceremonies, this fancy affair actually gave the presenters a solid block of time to spin their personal recollections on television, shout out their heroes, reflect on their careers, and in the case of George Lopez — go entirely off script into an improvised and only partially coherent comedy routine that had the audience rolling on the floor. Plus, the presenters felt free to cut loose and hablar en Spanglish, showing off their true bicultural personalities in a room full of brothers and sisters of the struggle.
Plus, of course, there were the paeans to groundbreaking Cuban-American television actor and producer Desi Arnaz, who spent his career on I Love Lucy in the shadow of his wife and collaborator Lucille Ball. And if the Paley Center gala will be remembered years to come for one thing, it will undoubtedly be for raising up Arnaz’s memory and giving him his rightful place as a pioneer of television history.
Here are a handful of the most heartfelt, thought-provoking, and funniest quotes from the night, so you too can feel like you were there.
Gloria and Emilio Estefan on Accents and the Legacy of Desi Arnaz
Gloria Estefan: I came here at 2 years old from Cuba and I remember it was a perfectly natural thing to hear Desi Arnaz singing in Spanish, music from my land, and it wasn’t a weirdness. It’s like everybody was tuning in, everybody was loving the show and i saw myself reflected so that was a wonderful thing to see early on. I didn’t realize at the time how unique that was, and how it was gonna be a long time before we saw anything like that again if ever.
Emilio Estefan: She’s right, that’s what happened with my accent. I learned English with him, that’s why I kept my accent like that.
Gloria: He speaks with an accent, but he doesn’t listen with one. Just a heads up to all the waiters.
Luis Guzmán on Making It in America
Can you believe this? I look around this gorgeous building and I wonder how the hell did a Puerto Rican from Greenwich Village via Cayey, Puerto Rico — let me get that right — how did this guy end up up here? And the answer is simple: televisión. I made some small films starting out, but it was television that gave me my big break… And while we have a long way to go in today’s television landscape, Latinos are front and center as doctors, zombie vampires, trauma nurses, and at least one evil queen. Hispanic journalists and political pundits bring us the news, Latino athletes are lauded for their tremendous abilities — they can dunk real good!
Karl-Anthony Townson on Connecting His Family Across Oceans
The first time my family saw me on TV as a high school player is the first time they felt that I could be something. It wasn’t the height, I’m telling you, it was the TV. They were all glued to the TV set — and if you know anything about my household, Yankee games are sacred, so that was big. It was unbelievable, I have a family living all over and it was great feeling for them to watch me playing all at the same time and feel really connected and have a chance to watch NBA basketball globally. I’m so proud to be named rookie of the year — unanimously, let along — and just as proud of the influence Latinos are having on the sport and its future.
Jimmy Smits on Improving Grammar
The first recurring Latino characters on weekly television were Walt Disney’s Zorro and MGM studios The Cisco Kid, but they were played by non-Latino actors: Guy Williams, and a Romanian-born actor named Duncan Renaldo — although Renaldo sounds more Hispanic than Smits does! But The Cisco Kid gave us the first English-speaking role for a Latino TV actor, and that was cisco’s sidekick Pancho who was portrayed by the talented Spanish-American actor Leo Carrillo — don’t they have a beach named after him? Yeah, right, see he got props! But the problem was, that particular character could barely speak English, and if you look back at clips you could see the actor’s kind of trying to maneuver through that. And that kind of interpretation outraged activists so much in the 60s that they got it pulled from syndication. Anyway, I’m happy to say that my good buddy Cheech Marin and I got to resurrect that role 50 years later and all I could say is that our grammar was much improved.
Edward James Olmos on the Soul of TV
Throughout this industry, throughout this country, and the world, we are not only in everybody’s mind, but we are in the soul and the construct of this country to the highest level. Without Latinos, the indigenous people wouldn’t be, we are part of the human nature of this hemisphere, and we are the construct of what makes the art form have soul. God bless Latinos.
Don Francisco on Men’s Clothing Design
Everything started here in New York. Before many of you were born, I came here to study and I became a men’s clothing designer. There was only one problem: I lived very close to hear at 32nd and Broadway, The Hotel Stamford. It’s still there. It used to be a hotel for Hispanics, today its for Asian people. Yeah, everything is changing. I went to that humble room and I saw inside a radio, very similar to the radio we had in the living room in my home country in Santiago de Chile. There was only one difference, instead of having a piece of cloth in front, it had a glass. And when I put it on, I was amazed. You were able to listen and to watch at the same time. That was my first contact with television, and I said, “my father’s wrong”–rest in peace. The future is not being a men’s clothing designer, the future is being on television.
Don Francisco on Being Younger than Bernie Sanders
At this new age, I’m going to start a new life on Telemundo with Don Francisco Invita, and maybe you’re going to say, “Well, this guy’s too old.” I’m older maybe a little bit than Edward James — yes, I’m older than you. But I’m younger than Bernie Sanders!
America Ferrera on Keeping the Memory Alive
America Ferrera: You know what, George, you and me have some history. You played my heroic teacher in Real Women Have Curves, and I played your daughter on The George Lopez Show. Oh wait, no I didn’t. I auditioned and you didn’t cast me. That’s okay, it’s not like I remember it or anything.
George Lopez: I have a defense: por pendejo!
George Lopez on New Hashtag Campaigns
I just want to say that we must all prevent Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States porque vale verga. Just that on its own, porque vale verga. That’s it. How come? Porque vale verga! What about politics? No tiene politics, can you hear me? Vale verga! Throw a hash tag in front of it.
George Lopez on Special Awards for Mark Anthony
Can we give Mark Anthony an award for being an amazing talent under 100 pounds?
America Ferrera on the Origins of TV Comedy
If television comedy had its own Bible, the first verse would certainly read: In the beginning, God created I Love Lucy and He hasn’t stopped laughing since.