WASHINGTON (AP) - Latinos are taking a more prominent role in President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, from the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice swearing in the vice president to a star-studded concert celebrating Latino culture.
Eva Longoria, a co-chairwoman for Obama’s campaign, hosted “Latino Inaugural 2013: In Performance at the Kennedy Center” as a salute to the president Sunday evening ahead of his public swearing-in Monday. Jose Feliciano, Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno and Latin pop star Prince Royce all performed. The lineup also included Mario Lopez and Wilmer Valderrama.
Vice President Joe Biden and his family appeared onstage, drawing big cheers, to help open the show. He said he wanted to thank Latinos for their support in last year’s election.
“One thing that happened in this election, you spoke. You spoke in a way that the world, and I mean the world, as well as the United States, could not fail to hear,” Biden said, calling the Latino vote decisive. “This is your moment. America owes you.”
Feliciano opened the show by singing the national anthem.
Marc Anthony later drew big cheers when he applauded Latinos’ growing political influence.
“Our united voice got us all here tonight and got the best man for the job in the White House,” Anthony said.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who gave the keynote speech at last year’s Democratic National Convention, recalled the admiration Latinos held for another president more than 50 years ago. Portraits of President John F. Kennedy still hang in many homes, he said.
“As we said `Viva Kennedy’ 50 years ago, today we say `Viva Obama,’” Castro said.
A children’s choir from San Juan, Puerto Rico, closed out the show, singing “This Land is Your Land.” They were joined by a larger Latino choir, including Hispanic members of the U.S. military, in singing “America the Beautiful.”
Earlier Sunday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee who is the first Hispanic justice on the highest court, administered the oath of office to Biden. And Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles, is Obama’s inauguration poet.
Latinos have a distinct presence at this inauguration after raising funds and turning out the vote for Obama in the 2012 election. Hispanics voted 7 to 1 for Obama over his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, whose Hispanic support was less than any other presidential candidate in 16 years. Analysts said Romney’s hardline stance on immigration was a factor.
San Antonio philanthropist and business leader Henry Munoz III, who coordinated the Latino inauguration event with Longoria and other Obama supporters, said this is a special moment when the Latino community is positioned to take an expanded role in shaping the country’s future.
“Without question, the presidential election of 2012 proves that Latinos are perhaps the most important influence from this point forward in the election of the president of the United States,” Munoz said. “It’s important that the leadership in Washington view us not as a narrow interest group but as a vibrant political force” that carries not just votes, but influence and financial resources.