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Pictured - Xolo Maridueña, who plays Miguel Diaz in the Netflix series Cobra KaiPictured - Xolo Maridueña, who plays Miguel Diaz in the Netflix series Cobra Kai

By Jan White
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In continuing our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the focus this week is on the Arts. On Tuesday, September 20, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) held its Noche de Gala dinner at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. 

NHFA was founded by actor Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, known for his roles in NYPD Blue, Bad Boys with Sean Penn, Camino del Rio in the Netflix series Ozark, Merel Julia wife of the late actor Raul Julia, Sonia Braga, and attorney Feliz Sanchez. The annual Noche de Gala helps raise funds and awareness in helping to expand and develop opportunities for up-and-coming new talent and funds scholarships for film and theater graduate students.

The event featured guest speakers such as Congressman Tony Cardenas, Democrat from California, and New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Lujan, along with Merel Julia and Felix Sanchez. 

“We’re excited to be back in person again, celebrating and shining a light on Nextgen Latinos in the entertainment and media world,” said Sanchez.

During the event, award-winning crime novelist, television writer, and executive producer George P. Pelecanos received the 2022 Raul Julia Award for Excellence. Pelecanos is known for his work on the HBO series The Wire, and was a writer on the New Orleans drama, Tremé. The Raul Julia Award for Excellence, named after the late actor, is presented to the organization or individual whose work most advances the presence of Latinos in television and/or film. 

Prior recipients of the honor are actors Rita Moreno, Lynda Carter, Robert Rodriguez, Sandra Bullock, journalist Elizabeth Vargas, and Kenny Ortega, known for directing the films Newsies, Hocus Pocus, High School Musical, and Descendants. 

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Two of Hollywood’s rising stars received The Horizon Award. Past recipients have included actors Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria, Gina Rodriguez, and Melissa Barrera. This year’s award went to Xóchitl Gomez and Xolo Maridueña. 

Gomez is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first-ever Latina and youngest superhero to date. The sixteen-year-old landed a starring role in Netflix’s The Babysitters Club, which debuted in 2021, and went on to star as America Chavez in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. “It’s really important for girls of color to see themselves not only in stories but as superheroes,” said Gómez.

Maridueña made his screen debut as Victor Graham on NBC’s Parenthood, but most people know him today as Miguel Diaz in the Netflix series Cobra Kai. The teenager will also star in the upcoming DC Extended Universe film Blue Beetle. His character, Jaime Reye, gains superpowers when a mysterious scarab binds to his spine and provides him with a blue alien armor. 

“Xóchitl and Xolo represent the progress NHFA has achieved, opening doors for young Latino talent,” said Felix Sanchez, NHFA Chairman and Co-founder. 

Three of the performers for the evening were from Texas - Nicholas Barrón is from San Antonio, and Aaron Blount and Benjamin Treviño are from Harlingen. 

 Nicholas Barrón is a native of San Antonio. He recently he won Best Lead Actor in a Musical for his role as Dominic in The Baker’s Wife and his solo performance of “This Is Not Over Yet” from Parade. Barron also won the 2022 award for Best Performance by an Actor at The National High School Musical Theater Awards. He is currently a senior in high school and hopes to attend a school for Classical Voice in the fall of 2023. 

 Aaron Blount has been performing for 12 years in musicals, plays, and as a soloist. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting from Texas Christian University. She won the Palm Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her role as Elle Woods in the musical Legally Blonde. She was named the Top Performer in the State of Texas by UIL Acting judges and was a finalist in the Las Casas scholarship foundation in 2021.

Benjamin Treviño is a freshman musical theater major attending Sam Houston State University. Treviño has a passion for the performing arts that took root five years ago when he made his acting debut as A-Rab in West Side Story. Since then, he’s played the roles of Callahan in Legally Blonde, the Beast Prince in Beauty and the Beast, Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, and Don Quixote/Cervantes in Man of La Mancha, for which he won the Palm Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. After getting his degree, Benjamin hopes to continue acting in professional theaters around the country and eventually teach theater to students like himself.

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