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Medals to honor artists by the White House.
The medals were to be delivered in 2021, but the ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic. Photo: @WhiteHouse.

What Latinos recently got their 2021 National Arts and National Humanities medals?

The White House held a recent ceremony for the 2021 winners, whose celebration was delayed by the pandemic.

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In total, 23 icons of the arts and humanities were awarded by the Biden Administration earlier this week with their 2021 National Medals of Humanities and 2021 National Medals of Arts at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The medals are the highest governmental recognition for arts and humanities work in the U.S.

Among those awarded were four renowned Latinos who've left their mark on music, art, and literature. They are: singer-songwriter José Feliciano, the visual artist and muralist Judith Baca, graphic artist and painter Antonio Martorell, and poet Richard Blanco. Feliciano, Baca and Martorell received National Arts Medals and Blanco got a National Humanities Medal.

Biden wrote on Twitter:

The power of the arts and humanities is stamped into America’s DNA – it’s a large part of why we’re a great nation. Today, we honor 23 extraordinary Americans for their outstanding contributions to our culture and society.

José Feliciano

At 77, the pioneering music icon, recognized in the U.S. for hits like "Feliz Navidad" and his rendition of "Light my Fire." Feliciano's career spans more than 60 years, during which he produced more than 600 songs and released 60 albums.

Remembered for being one of the first Spanish-speaking artists to enter the English-speaking market, the Puerto Rican-born artist has achieved more than 45 gold and platinum records, multiple Grammy awards and nominations, and was also recognized with the Legend Award by Billboard.

“An artist who unites cultures and styles, wins Grammy Awards, and opens doors for generations of Latino artists and the heart of our nation,” Biden said as he symbolically presented Feliciano with his medal.

Feliciano was unable to accept the award because he is currently in the middle of a tour.

Judith Baca

She is the creator of the largest mural in the world, known as The Great Wall of Los Angeles, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. It spans half a mile and depicts the ethnic history of California.

Baca, who was born in L.A. and is 76 years old, is one of the most-recognized artists in California history.

The Daughter of Mexican-Americans, Baca is currently the artistic director of Los Angeles' Social and Public Art Resource Center, or SPARC, the city's first mural program that has produced more than 400 pieces in the city since 1974. She is also a co-founder of the center.

“Her groundbreaking murals represent the strength and scope of human nature and tell the forgotten stories, and tell a fuller story of who we are as Americans,” Biden said as he presented the medal to an emotional Baca.

Judith Francesca Baca shows off her deserved medal. Photo @NEAarts.
Judith Baca shows off her medal. Photo @NEAarts.

Antonio Martorell

“One of the greatest ambassadors of Puerto Rico,” Biden said when referring to the renowned painter, graphic artist, and writer.

After starting in illustrated art as a poster artist of the Puerto Rican experience, Martorell's work was key to the development of the medium as a form of expression for social commentary between the 1960s and 1970s.

Martorell is responsible for prolific pieces of contemporary art exhibited both in Puerto Rico and the United States.

Antonio Martorell was honored by President Biden. Photo LaPerlaPR.
Antonio Martorell poses for a photo with President Biden after receiving his award. Photo LaPerlaPR.

Richard Blanco

Recognized as the nation's first openly-gay Latino poet to present a poem at a presidential inauguration, Blanco received a National Humanities Medal from Biden.

This distinction, assigned to those who have helped deepen and broaden the humanities with contributions in history, literature, and philosophy, among other topics, was given to the Cuban-American for his texts inspired by controversial issues such as immigration, race, and armed violence.

Blanco, who is currently an author, professor and public speaker, is remembered for reading the inaugural poem at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2013, and for another written for the historic reopening of the United States Embassy in Cuba in 2015.

“His poetry bridges cultures and languages, a mosaic of our past, present, and future, reflecting a nation that is troubled, colorful, and still transforming,” Biden said.

The ceremony, which included tributes to celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, Gladys Knight, Mindy Kaling, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Vera Wang, among others, had been postponed since 2021 due to the pandemic.

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