Lin-Manuel Miranda, Los Lobos And Tania León Post Their W's : Alt.Latino We take a look at the headlines from the past week and can't help but notice Latinos and Latinos stacking up wins.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Los Lobos And Tania León Post Their W's

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:

From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, HOST:

And I'm ALT.LATINO producer Anamaria Sayre. So when we were putting together this week's show, I guess the best way to kind of explain this is we had this moment where we were like, whoa, Latinx media is kind of all over the news right now. We kept coming across all these different pieces that were discussing new pieces of media or developments with certain artists or certain media entering the cultural sphere, the mainstream capital and mainstream cultural conversation. So we figured we needed to take a moment, or rather an episode to do a little survey of what's going on with Latinos in media right now. Felix, what do we have on the agenda for today?

CONTRERAS: So we're going to dive into the phenomena that is the film "In The Heights." It's an adaptation of the work that brought Lin-Manuel Miranda onto our radar. And also, the Pulitzer Prize for Music was awarded to a respected Cuban-American composer. And also, we're going to take a look at our favorite rock 'n' roll band, Los Lobos. They were recognized for their four decades of musical cultural heritage. All of that happened in one week.

SAYRE: OK. So let's get right into our main story. Everyone, and I seriously, I think everyone, your tías, your abuela, like, that lady down the street, they are all talking about "In The Heights," right? So it's this film adaptation of the Broadway play written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes. It was released online and in theaters on June 11. And the conversations, in-person and online, expected it to be celebrating this as kind of a milestone for Latinos, right? People in la comunidad are feeling pretty heard about this. A lot of members of our community, Afro Latine members specifically have been starting a lot of conversations around who is represented and who is being seen in this film. Felix, what exactly is the controversy here? Can you give us a breakdown of the timeline of how it all went down?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Because I think it's important to know how things happened in order to understand what happened. OK. So the movie was released on June 11, and it was pretty much celebrated. Everybody was talking about what a great film it was. And then there were questions about colorism. OK? There were no Afro Latinos in the leads and the film takes place in Washington Heights, where there are a lot of Afro Latinos. Then there was an interview on the website The Root with the Afro Latina journalist Felice León. She was talking to director Jon Chu and some of the actors from the film. And she asked about the lack of Afro Latinos and their answers didn't really satisfy the people who were questioning the absence of Afro Latinos. Then Lin-Manuel Miranda, just a few days ago, offered an apology on Twitter about how he recognizes the lack of Afro Latinos in the film, talks about how they try to do a good job, but they fell short. And it was, I thought, a very sincere apology and a very frank and honest conversation on his side about the colorism and some of the issues that were brought up.

SAYRE: Wow. Yeah. That is complicated and difficult. And I think it has started a lot of conversations and had a lot of people talking about what making a, quote, "Capital L" Latino film really means. I think the intention of the creators was to have this be kind of a breakthrough piece for the community. Whether it was, whether it wasn't, we have decided to take a look at a legacy of Latinos in film. Right, Felix? What do we have today?

CONTRERAS: We're going to have a conversation next about the idea of breakthrough and in fact, that there have been several breakthroughs with Latinos in film going back to the silent era. Check out this conversation.

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MARCELA DAVISON AVILÉS: Hi. This is Marcela Davison Avilés. And I am executive producer and managing director of TomKat media. I was the lead consultant for "Coco."

CONTRERAS: Your informal post on Facebook argued that there have been several breakthroughs regarding Latinos in Hollywood, going back to the silent film era. OK. So the first question - so why are these breakthroughs significant and what does it say about Latinos and the film industry?

AVILÉS: Well, I think the work of artists such as Ramón Novarro, María Grever, Dolores del Río, María Félix, you know, Desi Arnaz, they were breakthroughs because at the time, they actually did break through a ceiling of oppression in Hollywood. They were the first, so to speak. So Ramón was, you know, a silent film star, beloved, and he was gay. And he was - his journey as a gay Latin lover, you know, gay in his real life, a Latin lover on the screen, caused him, you know, incalculable challenges relative to claiming his agency and claiming his artistry. And then you have an artist like María Félix, who, you know, broke through the machismo - the culture of machismo in Mexico with a film like "Doña Bárbara." I mean, there's been tons of - to her about her work. But - and a composer like María Grever - I mean, how many people have heard of María Grever? She was the first Mexican composer to achieve international acclaim. She wrote thousands of songs under contract to the Hollywood studios - Paramount and others. "What A Difference A Day Makes" - she's in the Jazz Hall of Fame for composing "What A Difference A Day Makes," except when she composed it - it's "Cuando Estoy A Tu Lado" (ph) "A Tu Lado" (ph) is the title.

So I would - to answer your question, I think we have a history in Hollywood. We have a tremendous legacy in Hollywood up - you know, continuing to this day. And there were many, many, many artists who broke through, both because it was the first time that they were achieving acclaim and because of the excellence of their artistry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: Tell us a little bit about Ricardo Montalbán. What made him a first? What made him a pioneer in that regard?

AVILÉS: Well, he was from Mexico. And he was one of the few Latino-Latinx stars, you know, legitimate stars in terms of, you know, in the studio system under contract to the studios appearing as a lead in many, many films, including with stars such as Lana Turner, for example. And he transcended Hollywood's attempt to typecast him as the hot Latin lover by achieving acclaim outside of that trope. His artistry as an actor goes without saying. But if you go back and you look at some of his work, his early work, you can really see how talented he was as an actor and as a performer.

There's a scene in one of his films where he's - his role is, you know - he's a matador who wants to be a concert pianist. And he's playing "Salón De Mexico" (ph) on the piano. And he's actually playing "Salón De Mexico." He is playing it. They recorded André Previn, I believe. But it was him, you know, at the piano that they filmed, and you could tell that he knew the music. So, you know, he is unsung in many ways and claimed in many ways. I love his work, just a wonderful artist and someone who gave back to his community.

CONTRERAS: And did you mention something about him having ownership of some of his films?

AVILÉS: I think he owned every film he appeared in. I mean, he was in the "Star Trek" films. He was in the "Star Trek" TV show. He played, you know, very famously, the character of Khan. And he was just - he - the scenes that he's in, he owns those scenes. He claims agency, not only of himself, but, you know, he enters the scene and it's just all - you're glued to his performance. He was just a consummate artist and someone really that I think folks today can look up to as look - as well as look back on.

Think of his trajectory, right? Think of what he had to go through when he was under contract to some of the big studios. I mean, they - you were put in a box. I mean, everybody was. If you came from a marginalized community and, you know, wanted to do well in the system, that was something that you had to contend with. And then to then continue your career for as long as he did and to take on roles that perhaps may not, you know, be Shakespeare or Cervantes, but were - kept him in the public eye, you know, where he was earning his keep as a - as an actor and allowed him to do other things, including give back to the community in the world of theater and his philanthropy. So he's so much more than "Fantasy Island." I really encourage folks to go back and take a look at the career of don Montalbán. He was an amazing actor and an amazing man.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: This is an actor that you didn't mention but I'm a big fan of - Anthony Quinn.

AVILÉS: Oh, my goodness.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA")

ANTHONY QUINN: (As Auda Abu Tayi) Seventy-five men have I killed with my own hands in battle? I scatter. I burn my enemies tense. I take away their flocks and herds. The Turks pay me a golden pleasure. Yet I am poor because I am a river to my people.

AVILÉS: He - you know, again, he was someone who was claimed for his artistry and seemingly, you know, his equanimity in terms of the way he was cast is something. You know, he was cast, you know, in "Zorba The Greek," and he was cast as villains, and he was cast, as, you know, Mexican bandits, and he had an outside life, outside personality. And I think you can see that in his acting. And, you know, again, a really good example of someone who had to deal with, you know, what others - how others wanted to portray him or wanted to use - literally use him and his craft in their creative vision, right? So think of what might have happened if folks like Ricardo and others had been permitted to do their own stories.

You know, I was just talking today with a colleague of mine about just think of for every time that a member in our community has been declined in terms of a pitch or, you know, a project not being given that green light, hundreds, thousands of stories untold, what might have happened four years ago if our stories had been told? Could the narrative have been hijacked - our narrative, our Latino, Latina, Latinx narrative been hijacked the way it was, you know? If folks knew María Grever and knew where those songs came from - and not only that, if they knew that she was so influenced by jazz, by, you know, by what was happening in New York by these jazz musicians in the turn of the century, in the '20s and the '30s - she was very public about that and how it influenced her artistry as a composer. So I think that, you know, the breakthroughs - this question of the breakthroughs - yeah, we're having breakthroughs today just as we had them 75 years ago, just as we had them 30 years ago. And it's really cool to go back and check back on what folks were doing back then.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, somebody like Anthony Quinn, I didn't know he was Mexican until, like, I was in my 20s or 30s, maybe. I mean, since - he was just seemingly like, where was he from, right? Because he - like you said, he was Greek. He had that amazing performance in "Lawrence Of Arabia" - just like one of my favorite scenes of all time.

AVILÉS: Right.

CONTRERAS: So it's - he's just - he's part of the American film experience. And even I - and many folks didn't even know that he was from Mexico or he was Latin, you know?

AVILÉS: Yeah. Because, you know, how many of us heard from our parents that you had to assimilate, you know? You had to turn into something that was outside of your heritage. And so Linda Ronstadt, who I mentioned in my response to that post, social media post, you know, she was someone who - and is someone who's beloved because she just said, no, you know? This is who I am and I'm going to have this album "Canciones De Mi Padre" and I'm going to do it. And so she was able to transcend the way folks were trying to keep her, you know, in that rock 'n' roll box. And that created two or three more albums. But she was also a fantastic actress. She got a Golden Globe nomination for you know - what? - "Pirates Of Penzance." (Laughter) Come on. I mean, it was fantastic the way in which artists of our community have been able to surf this notion of identity and claim their identity and claim their artistry in how they want to. You know, it's her story. It was her tía's book of canciones that was beloved in her family. It's her father's music, don Gilberto's music that she claimed and said, I'm going to do this, you know? And still, I think, if I'm not mistaken, that album is the most - it holds the record for the most albums sold in the Spanish language.

CONTRERAS: Wow. I have friends who are mariachis who tell me that, you know, as an aside, friends who play in mariachi who tell me that, you know, there's life before "Canciones" and after. Because, like, they would play the same songs, but they had to be Linda's version that she did with her mariachi. They had to be that version, that arrangement that people wanted to hear, right? It was so popular.

AVILÉS: You're so right. And I remember walking into the living room of our house. I was visiting my parents. I'd, you know, I'd moved away and I was coming back to visit the folks. And I didn't realize the extent to which their generation had been forced to suppress their identity until I - literally, no kidding, I walked into the living room, my father was sitting in his chair, you know, in the living room, crying. I'd never seen my father cry before. And I said, Daddy, why are you crying? And he pointed to the little, you know, record album, the little record player on the floor that was next to the chair, and Linda was singing. And he looked at me and he said, that's my childhood. A guy who fought in World War II - I'm getting a little emotional here - that's when he reclaimed his identity because he had to hide it. A man who told us, you have to speak English first, you can't speak Spanish - my mother and father would get into fights over speaking Spanish at home. And she'd never stop speaking Spanish at home. And he said, you know, no, you have to speak English first. So the work of these artists and the breakthroughs that they achieved are so impactful, even today, but definitely then.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POR UN AMOR")

LINDA RONSTADT: (Singing) Por un amor me desvelo y vivo apasionada. Tengo un amor que en mi vida...

CONTRERAS: What does all that history tell us about this moment of "In The Heights"?

AVILÉS: What's old is new, what's new is old in terms of the fight, la lucha - that it continues and that reclaiming identity and reclaiming memory has to continue every single day because, if you think you've won the battle, you know, that's - that is when you're at risk of losing the war in terms of achieving equity, achieving this idea of inclusion - this American idea of inclusion. And so "In The Heights" is so essential and so much a film to be celebrated, a show to be celebrated and music to be celebrated and, yes, discussed in terms of the casting, a dialogue that's happening. But that's all good. And it has to keep happening consistently.

So that's where, in terms of this idea of breakthrough, yes, it's another breakthrough because what "Coco," a film I worked on - happened in 2017, and when has there been another, you know, sort of tentpole project? We all thought, great, we're going to see a lot of this now. And - ¿qué paso? - nothing happened until "In The Heights." But, you know, "In The Heights" had appeared on the stage, and then it took - you know, films take a long time. But because there's not enough in the pipeline, because we don't have the development execs from our community who get it, who will say, yes, we're going to do this, and yes, I know that the box office is going to be robust, you know, don't worry about that - you're going to get - your ROI - on your investment, you're going to get it.

And so I think, to that point, it is a breakthrough. But don't we all want to be at a place where it's not a breakthrough because it's yet another wonderful story to be celebrated in a series of stories to be celebrated that are consistently being offered by our storytellers from our community all the time, not just once every 10 years? So I totally get it that folks are saying, yes, it's a breakthrough. I would say it's a breakthrough in a continuum.

Let's remember who came before us and thank our lucky stars that those stories are there because, you know, they inspire folks like Lin Manuel. Of course, they do. And thank our lucky stars for him and his work and hope that we don't have to keep saying, it's a breakthrough, but - or perhaps we say it's a breakthrough but for another reason, not because we haven't seen this - you know, our stories told in so long, but because it's, like, some amazing thing that happened with respect to artistry that's, like - oh, it's blowing your mind. Wow, what a breakthrough, but not a breakthrough because we've been excluded, but a breakthrough because it's some cool thing in music or in theater or in film that's just that aha moment, you know, in your - the thought bubble over your head that's like, oh, my God, I had no idea he could do that. Wow. I want more.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN THE HEIGHTS")

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) In the Heights - I hang my flag up on display.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Singing) Lo le lo le lo lai lai lo le...

CONTRERAS: Marcela, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us about this little bit of history. It helps us put everything into perspective. Thank you so much.

AVILÉS: No, thank you. It was an honor. I really appreciate the conversation.

SAYRE: You are listening to ALT.LATINO, and I am Anamaria Sayre.

For almost 50 years, the East LA band Los Lobos has been documenting their view on life with 16 studio albums, four live albums, three compilations, two EPs and a boatload of appearances on compilations and film soundtracks. Wow. That is a legacy. Every year, the National Endowment for the Arts awards its annual heritage fellowships to master folk musicians and traditional artists in recognition of the multi-hued fabric that is our country's cultural reality. Up next, Felix is talking to band member Louie Pérez about how that recognition is much more than a tribute to the band.

CONTRERAS: So just this morning, it was announced that Los Lobos won a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Award. Give me your reaction, man. How do you feel about that?

LOUIE PÉREZ: It's incredible. It was announced to us about a few weeks ago, but we just went public with it today. And it just kind of completely blew us away. This is a big deal. This is national recognition. That's the way we're looking at it rather than an award. We've been everywhere. We've been - you know, we've been in the White House. We've played for presidents. But this is a legit acknowledgment of what we've been doing for the past 47 years, 48 years this November.

CONTRERAS: But who's counting, right? (Laughter).

PÉREZ: Yeah. That's right.

CONTRERAS: On the one hand, you know, it - I think it acknowledges your work in preserving, as you always have done since - I saw you guys, I think in 1976 when I was in high school - you guys have always been preserving the Mexican heritage with the instruments and with the music and with the traditions. But at the same time, it recognizes that contemporary Chicano life is also part of the heritage, is also part of society, the fabric of society.

PÉREZ: Right.

CONTRERAS: So there - it's not like you guys are in a museum, right? You know, you guys are - you are out there actively working. You're still writing. You're still performing. You're still interacting. You're still part of our community. And it seems to be, like, a dual recognition there.

PÉREZ: Yeah, that's right. We're not, like, in a plexiglass box in a museum somewhere.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

PÉREZ: We're still out there because you know what? Like yourself, Felix, we have work to do. We still have a lot of work to do as a culture. The events over the past 15 months in all levels, you know, on race relations, cultural relations, everything has just been in the forefront. And now that we have an opportunity now to rethink society - American society and how it works. But yeah, we've been doing this for a long time, and there's a certain degree - we're still doing the same work that we did when we first formed this band - these rock 'n' roll kids who put away electric guitars to play regional Mexican music, which was unheard of back then. But that work still continues in everything that we do. We're just fortunate to have it on the world stage now. So - and we take that with a great deal of responsibility.

CONTRERAS: You guys have been, for so long, the truest representatives of people like me and people that I know that reflect our life, our culture, what we think about, what makes us happy, what makes us sad, what we dream about. So this heritage award seems to recognize also, in a way, that community, as well, you know?

PÉREZ: That's right. Absolutely. I never see these things as just something that is directed toward us. I always see this as a way, as you put, that elevates our culture as an important part of the fabric of America, of the United States. And everything that who - that we have achieved we've achieved for all of us, not just ourselves as a band.

CONTRERAS: You mentioned the 15 months of the pandemic. How did you guys spend that time? And I see online that you guys are out there back on the road again pretty soon. What's happening?

PÉREZ: We took a long nap for about three months.

(LAUGHTER)

PÉREZ: We had been working so hard, and we didn't realize how hard we were working until you stop. You know how that is. You know, you get onto that wheel like a little animal, a little hamster or something. And we finally got off that wheel, and we had to decompress for a while. But then we got back to wanting to reconnect with our audience, our gente, and do things that were constructive. And we did several campaigns for mask wearing, and we're now involved in getting everybody - of our people - vaccinated 'cause a lot of people are very reluctant. We're trying to dispel a lot of the myths and untruths about vaccines, saying that we all have to do this together. And again, that falls right into - squarely into the subject of culture - is that we have to unite, no matter what color we are. We're doing this as human beings caring about each other.

CONTRERAS: In terms of moving forward, you guys have new recordings coming out anytime soon?

PÉREZ: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, on the 17 of July, we have a record. We had started this project, which is a tribute to Los Angeles - played a lot of songs from bands from LA - or at least got their start in LA. And we started that in January of 2020. Then we got shut down. And then we got back to it in person during the summer when things got better. We were recording in the studio where we were all spread out. We had to just like, you know, just about, you know, call each other on the cell phones. Ace (ph), call off the song - can you count down the song? So we finished that record finally a couple months ago. It's called "Native Sons," and it's got the Midnighters, Jackson Browne, great blues artists, War - we did a song from War because you can't do a record about LA without War. So it's a cool record, and a couple of the singles have already been released. And the whole record is going to be out in a couple weeks.

CONTRERAS: So the Heritage Awards is very appropriate because once again, with this project, the LA project, you're capturing a living, breathing culture as it existed and as it exists now. So congratulations, man.

PÉREZ: Thank you. Appreciate that very much. Our anniversary's this November. We'll be 48 years old. And that means it's only two years away - 24 months till the big 50. So one day at a time. You know, doing what's right in front of us, but that's coming up. So there's been talk about doing something big for our anniversary. 'Cause hey, look at how fast 15 months went by. Two years can evaporate, too. But we're still here. We're still doing things. And we're still, you know, busy. Like as I mentioned before, it's a lot of work to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

PÉREZ: Sorry about that.

CONTRERAS: The phone's ringing, man. It might be a gig. I better let you go, man.

(LAUGHTER)

PÉREZ: All right.

CONTRERAS: Louie Pérez, thank you so much, man.

PÉREZ: Thank you. And I appreciate you acknowledging this. And it's always so great to be part of what you've done in ALT.LATINO and on NPR and doing for all of us.

CONTRERAS: Thanks, bro. Thanks, man.

PÉREZ: Abrazos.

CONTRERAS: Igualmente.

SAYRE: And now onto another award announced this week. Most people associate the Pulitzer Prize with journalism, but they also recognize achievements in literature and music, believe it or not. This year, the awards for things like poetry, history, nonfiction and drama were either awarded to people of color or had themes that dealt with our communities. That included the prize for music, which went to Tania León, a respected Cuban-American composer who won for her orchestral composition called "Stride." It was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to celebrate the centennial of the right of women to vote in this country and had just won premiere performance before, sadly, as we all remember, the entire country locked down at the start of the pandemic last year. Felix caught up with Tania León at her home in New York to talk about it.

CONTRERAS: Tania León, musician, composer, conductor, educator and now Pulitzer Prize winner - what was your reaction when you first heard the news?

TANIA LEÓN: Well, I had no idea that was happening because I didn't know anything about the announcement that day. And I found out through a colleague of mine that heard the announcement, and he was the one that got in touch with me.

(LAUGHTER)

LEÓN: So otherwise, I would have continued the entire day, and who knows when was I going to be able to find out? I don't know.

CONTRERAS: But once you - once it settled in that you had won, what did you think about the reaction?

LEÓN: It's a tremendous honor because now that I am in the thick of it is that I realize that it is a very coveted prize and how important it is for the community. It's a tremendous surprise - I mean, something that I didn't expect.

CONTRERAS: Your composition "Stride" was of the New York Philharmonic's Project 19 commission. Can you tell us what that was about, and then tell us about the composition?

LEÓN: Well, it's actually the 100th anniversary of the declaration of women rights in the United States.

CONTRERAS: The women's right to vote.

LEÓN: Exactly - women's right to vote. I'm sorry. And the person that steer this idea was Susan B. Anthony. I was approached by the Philharmonic, along with 18 other composers that happened to be women, in order to make a statement as a celebration - a musical celebration to the effort of these women a century ago. And of course, I mean, I was invited to write a piece, and it just so happened that my piece, I dedicated to her. It also so happened that during that week, it was her birthday. And the rest is history. And it's "Stride" because by reading about her life, her resilience, everything that she wanted to do, plus many things that I have actually witnessed that every time that there is a group of people that believe in certain principles, they actually gather and, in a way, they march. And that is one of my experiences when I arrived in the United States that I - for the first time in my life, I saw the marches of the people that were actually supporting the ideas of the civil rights. When I started writing this piece, all of these different memories started coming to my mind. And also, you know, in the case of Susan B. Anthony and the movement that made possible for these to materialize, remind me very much of the women in my family. We're unstoppable (laughter). And that is an energy that I know very well.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF TANIA LEÓN'S "STRIDE")

CONTRERAS: You know, in the earliest days of your very prolific career, you were a founding member and the first music director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. How do you look back on your contribution now of the group's efforts to promote Black dance and music to U.S. audiences during that time? Because it's 1969 - it's just five years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It was still very volatile then.

LEÓN: Well, you know, I have a very particular view about our behavior towards race, you see, because I think that it's a narrow-minded type of attitude. And I think that, also, it's a masquerade attitude towards power, meaning you see certain alibis for those that feel that power isn't impotent to sort of, like, demise another the group. I mean, in other words, we are tribal, and we have continued to be tribal, even that - now we have these incredible cars and televisions and airplanes, you see. And that's how I have viewed this situation that is a situation that is ongoing, you know, all over the world. And one of the things that I really despise is the amount of labels that are

LEÓN: attributed to people when people are people. Each of us is a representative of the human species. So what one thing has to do with the other? So that is something that, since I was growing up, I had a lot of thinking about that. Besides that, I was surrounded by completely - a mixed family, you know? And this was not a discussion. I mean, this was not part of that. So getting into the world and seeing all of this - and that's why the marches of, like, Martin Luther King made such a big impression on me - to find out that group of people in the world will have to fight for something that is a right, you know? I mean, we're born in this planet. I mean, we're not from another planet. This is the same planet. We all walk on two legs, you know? We have eyes, hair. Who cares what is the texture of the hair? Who cares what is the language that we speak? Who cares in what part of the planet we were born, you see? And I was born a woman, and that notion that women are sort of, like, second-class citizens in this planet for one reason or the other when it is not because one thing is because the other thing. (Inaudible) disrespect to the human being that, after all, is the one that brings - perpetuate the species because, I mean, we all are born of a woman, you see?

So I mean, all these things, you know, I mean, were percolating in my mind as I wrote that piece. And it's - I mean, according to the description, it is a piece that has also some sort of, like, commentaries that had to do with American music and all the music of the Americas. And it's precisely - it's like memories that all of a sudden enter into the piece and then disappear in a way. And the people that identify with those gestures that may recognize something that sounds American or recognize something that might sound Latin American or whatever, they recognize that moment. And there is a moment in the piece that is sort of like a march 'cause of these steps - you know, steps and steps that go forward, I mean, like an invisible ghost or something that is actually walking in the middle of the whole thing until the end.

CONTRERAS: You have such a distinguished career - many high-profile commissions from major orchestras around the world, conducting and music directing seemingly from every corner of the earth. Did you ever dream such things could be in your future when you were a young girl in Cuba?

LEÓN: No, absolutely not. I thought that I was going to be a pianist, you know. And one of the pianists that I really admire was Martha Argerich. So my dream was just sort of, like, become another Martha Argerich in a way, you know, in Latin America. And I always talk about traveling. I told my family that I was going to live in Paris when I was 9 years old. And I had all these big dreams, and my family look at me as though I was nuts because, I mean, how? I mean, in the middle of an island and, you know, in the middle of a poor household, why did I have dreams like that? You know, I never thought things were impossible.

CONTRERAS: And yet here you are.

LEÓN: Yeah, now I'm surprised. You know, people might not understand that I am surprised myself. It's like when I found out about this award, you know, and my colleague called me and told me this was just announced. At first, I mean, I just could not believe that this was happening, and then I cried a lot because, I mean, I remembered all these - my ancestors, you know, and those that I never met. And my family is comprised of people from different cultures. And outside of that generation, I don't know - we don't know where the other people came from. I mean, my brother and I will always say, who? I mean, where? I mean, where are we from? I say, well, the planet, you know (laughter). We really don't know. It's like all these people set foot into the island, and they loved the island, and they stayed. And the next generation was us. That's it, you know?

CONTRERAS: Well, I know you're very busy. You were very, very gracious to give me some time today. So I will end the interview here. And I hope that at some point in the future, we can talk again when you're not so busy with all the accolades and adoration and your usual, you know, daily business stuff. But I hope that we can talk again in the future.

LEÓN: Thank you, Felix.

SAYRE: And before we close this show out, there's also been a bit of inspiring news last week that involved a Mexican cultural center in the Bay Area with a little bit of a surprise donor. I was at least shocked to hear this one. Felix, do you want to tell us about that?

CONTRERAS: So MacKenzie Scott is the ex-wife of billionaire Jeff Bezos. She has been giving away billions of dollars in philanthropy. That's with a B. And in just under a year, she has donated $8.5 billion. Now, just a few days ago, the folks at Los Cenzontles cultural center in the Bay Area announced that they received a grant of $1 million. Our friend, Eugene Rodriguez, who is the director of the nonprofit and the leader of the band of the same name, says the group will create an endowment with the money to use the interest to support their programming and Mexican folk instructions to the youngsters. Very, very surprise announcement, but very, very good news.

SAYRE: It's very exciting news. I knew she was going to be giving away all this money, but, oh, my God (laughter).

CONTRERAS: It's quite amount of money.

SAYRE: So lots of Latinos in the news this week. Thank you, Felix. Our thanks to Marcela Davison Avilés, Tania León and Louie Pérez for taking their time to speak with us, also to ALT.LATINO intern Reanna Cruz for their help with production this week.

CONTRERAS: And before we sign off this week, don't forget to help us out by taking the podcast survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey. This kind of direct feedback with you, our loyal listeners, will help us in so many ways. Thanks so much.

SAYRE: You have been listening to ALT.LATINO from NPR Music. I'm Anamaria Sayre. Thank you so much for listening. Everyone, have a lovely week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANIA LEÓN'S "STRIDE")

CONTRERAS: And let's close out the show with some more from the Pulitzer Prize-winning composition by Tania León, "Stride." Our thanks to the New York Philharmonic for this bit of music. Felicidades, Tania León.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANIA LEÓN'S "STRIDE")

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