Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Report on the 2014 HOLA Awards

It was a beautiful, albeit humid autumnal evening in October. And while it would later drizzle, the precipitation was not enough to dampen the excitement that was happening at The Battery Gardens in Manhattan's Battery Park. It was the site of the 2014 HOLA Awards, the fifteenth annual celebration (or would it be better described as its quinceañera?).

Stars of stage and screen mingled and posed on the red carpet area and had pre-show cocktails as they waited for the awards ceremony celebrating and recognizing Latino talent to begin.

At just about 8pm, actress-singer-songwriter Sophia Angélica opened the evening with a fantastic version of "I'll Always Love You" (most recently made popular by the late Whitney Houston), and the show was underway. First-time masters of ceremonies Alfredo Galván and Evi Siskos deftly kept the evening moving at a steady pace.

Cynthia López, the Commissioner of the New York City Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment received the HOLA Advocacy Award and spoke of being able to open the door for others and to remember those who opened the door for her. Her speech set the tone for the evening. 

Ana Ortiz, one of the two HOLA José Ferrer Tespis Award recipients, recalled how she was advised to change her name in order to get more opportunities as an actress. "My name is Ortiz. I like my name. It's my father's name. It's my sister's name." She thanked HOLA, as did many honorees and awardees for all the work it does for advocating for fair images of Latinos in the media. She then added that while "we have taken several steps forward, Catherine Zeta-Jones is playing La Madrina [Griselda Blanco], so we still have a lot of work to do."

Danny Burstein, also an HOLA José Ferrer Tespis Award recipient, mused on how "someone named Burstein" could find their way to the HOLA Awards. He then introduced the crowd to his date for the evening, his mother Virginia Vega (who just happens to be Costa Rican). He then praised her for raising him and his brother as a single mom and for being the inspiration for him to become who he is today, a five-time Tony nominee and the toast of Broadway (where he can currently be seen as Herr Schutz in Cabaret).

HOLA Excellence in Media recipient Sibila Vargas remembered how, when she first started as a reporter, she would have to explain where her native Dominican Republic was ("it's in the Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico..."), and how far Latinos have come in the field of media.

Among those who also brought their mothers to the HOLA Awards were HOLA Emerging Artist honoree Cierra Ramírez (who also brought her sister Savannah, truly making it a family affair), two-time 2014 HOLA Awards recipient Pablo Andrade, and HOLA Board President Manolo García Oliva, whose mother seemed to have stopped aging (she looks the same age Manolo, if not younger!). HOLA member José Yenque also brought his mother– or perhaps, it is more accurate to say she brought him (and his brother César), being that she is 2014 HOLA Awards recipient Teresa Yenque.

Bianca Marroquín accepted the Raúl Juliá HOLA Founders Award and was humbled by receiving an award named after the iconic actor-singer Raul Juliá. The triple threat also spoke of her bilingual, bicultural upbringing (she was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico and raised between the border cities Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas, U.S.A.). She also fondly remembered the date of June 18, 2002– the date she made her Broadway debut, playing Roxie Hart in Chicago, a role she has left and most recently returned to playing).

Telenovelas were well-represented this year with HOLA Excellence in the Telenovela Genre Award recipients, Daniel Arenas and Lupita Ferrer, garnering much applause for the packed room. (They spent a lot of time after the ceremony taking photos with those in attendance.)

Unfortunately, Pedro Pascal could not attend to pick up his HOLA Excellence in Television Award. He was on location in Colombia filming the upcoming Netflix series "Narcos". He did, however, delivered his acceptance speech via video where he realized he was the same age as HOLA after he noticed its Wikipedia page. He praised the organization and said he stood in solidarity with it.

HOLA honored those artists, performers and people in the industry who have passed away in the previous year with its traditional "final curtain call" memorial (where once their photo is shown on the screen, audience members gave them applause rather than a moment of silence). Immediately following the presentation, actress-singer (and 2014 HOLA Awards recipient) Jeannie Sol sang a stirring, bilingual rendition of Céline Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", which also included an impromptu smooch on the lips between her and HOLA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Héctor Elizondo (timed perfectly around the word "labios", which means "lips" in Spanish).

HOLA Executive Director Manny Alfaro then presented the award to Elizondo, who spoke of his upbringing in New York and his career as an actor. He received quite the standing ovation before and after his speech, which was poignant and heartfelt.

Fantastic speeches were given by luminaries of the New York (and international) Latino theater scene, including Germán Jaramillo, Zulema Clares, Edna Lee Figueroa, Armando Riesco (who quoted José Martí), Caridad del Valle, Kathy Tejada, José López Alemán, Daniel Soto, Pablo García Gámez, Leyma López, Beatriz Córdoba, Iván Camilo, Walter Ventosilla, Andrés Zambrano, Emely Grisanty, Ricardo Birnbaum, María Cuartero and Xabi Soret, among others.

And in less then two hours, before the clock struck ten, it was over, as fast as it begun, with nothing left but a visceral experience and a wonderful memory. Not unlike watching a theater play, an episode of a television series, or a film on the big screen.

The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) would like to thank The Battery Gardens (and its staff) for once again hosting the event, the event sponsors (JetBlue Airlines, Hilton Hotels (Millenium Hilton and Conrad New York), Flyte Time Worldwide Transportation, and the performer unions SAG-AFTRA and Actors' Equity Association.). In addition, HOLA would like to thank this year's co-producers (Synergy Media Partners), this year's masters of ceremonies (Alfredo Galván and Evi Siskos) and the ceremony's presenters (Louis Perego Moreno, Gonzalo Armendáriz, Lucía Armendáriz, Susan Rybin, Manuel A. Morán, J.W. Cortés, Martha Alzate, Juan Carlos Restrepo Rodríguez, Fanny Rybin, Carlos Navedo, Alexandra Manzano, Nelson Landrieu, Alicia Kaplan and José Yenque).

Finally, but most importantly, HOLA would like to thank the staff and volunteers who helped make this evening possible (Mónica Delgado, Louis Perego Moreno, Éric-Dominique Pérez, Patrick Michael Valley, Basil Rojas, Alicia Kaplan, Emmanuelle Bordas, Billy Martin Mejía, Vida Landrón, Fanny Rybin, Phoenix Ximénez, Inma Heredia and José A. Esquea), and, especially, the dynamic duo of Kristian Otero and Irving Maldonado for adeptly handling all the technical details of the event.

(Photography on this blog entry by Charles Díaz. Additional photos for the event were taken by Perla De León and Edwin Pagán. To see more photos of the 2014 HOLA Awards, click herehere and here.)

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