The celebration of National Association of Latino Independent Producers’ 20th anniversary comes at a unique moment in history. It appears Latinos are starting to gain momentum, even if at times fleeting, within the entertainment industry, but at the same time the political climate continues to alienate and dehumanize us.
Both of these sentiments were present during the NALIP Latino Media Awards, the organization’s annual star-studded gala that culminates the Hollywood-based Media Summit where Latinos and allies working at all levels within the industry come together for panels, workshops, and networking.
At the ceremony, Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Caballero, who was behind the detailed worlds in El laberinto del fauno and Roma, was among the honorees, receiving the Tech Arts Innovator Award. Breakout trans actress MJ Rodriguez, whose role in the Emmy-nominated FX show Pose has put her on the path to stardom, was visibly moved when accepting the Outstanding Achievement in Television Award and shared her joy at being embraced by the Latino community.
As she received the Lupe Ontiveros Award, named after the late Mexican-American performer, Mexican actress Karla Souza spoke about the importance of sharing our stories off and on screen, and pledged to use her platform to uplift and empower women and Latinos. “Art is a language, let’s have something powerful to say,” said Souza energetically.
The intersection between creatives and activism was present throughout the night, particularly when Gloria Calderón Kellett and Tanya Saracho took the stage to collect their Media Advocacy Award. The showrunners from One Day at a Time and Vida respectively, explained their decision to rally nearly 100 writers’ rooms to support Texas-based non-profit organization R.A.I.C.E.S. in their efforts to help the families being separated at the border.
Speaking on the importance of storytelling, Calderón Kellett noted, “Narrative impacts how people see us and see our communities, as somebody who is the daughter of Cuban immigrants I am here because Ricky Ricardo was on TV.” She continued to note that it was because her parents were afforded a path to citizenship that she had access to education and a dignified life. “We need to stand up more than ever to say what our truth is and who we are, and how important we are to the fabric of this culture and of this country.”
To close out the evening, the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Chicano director Gregory Nava, had three separate presenters. Nava’s award was introduced via a video from long-time collaborator Edward James Olmos, and then on stage by actors Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, stars of El Norte, who flew in from Mexico City to honor the work of the forward-thinking filmmaker who was putting Latino stories on screen before it was an industry priority.
Bringing the electric atmosphere to a fever pitch, legendary organizer Dolores Huerta, who at 89 years young, appeared as the final guest to honor Nava’s career. “If we do not know our own history, we don’t know who we are,” said Huerta in regards to the importance of Nava’s films such as Selena, Mi Familia, and Bordertown.
The co-founder of the United Farm Workers spoke on the history of the arbitrary border that attempts to separate Latinos in the U.S. with their brothers and sisters in Mexico and Latin America. “Sometimes I call it occupied Mexico,” she said about California and its surrounding states which elicited a round of cheers and applause from the audience.
Once Nava took the microphone, the event fully transformed into a rousing protest. The director shared the wounds his family experienced in the 1930s when his grandfather was deported to Mexico dividing his family, and connected it to the suffering of Central Americans at the border.
“Our community is in crisis, just look to the southern border. They are building a wall, families are being torn apart, children are being put in cages, and all of us here are in those cages with those children, because they are us,” he said.
Nava championed the need for more Latino stories to emerge as a tool to address the horrors that victimize us. “The time has come for us to make more movies and television programs, and if the doors are closed, break them…so that this country and the whole world can see who we truly are, so they can see hearts, so that what is happening on the southern border can never happen again.” He then led the crowd in chants of “Sí se puede.”
Scored by deafening applause, the visionary artist brought down the house with a final battle cry, “There are no walls strong enough to hold back our dreams because we are the future.”