America Gets "On its Feet" For Latinos

Latinos have taken over. At least it seems like that when you turn on the TV or go to Broadway. Jennifer Lopez, America Ferrera and Eva Longoria all have primetime TV shows.

Last month, Rita Moreno finally received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. Moreno earned this distinction. She is one of only 12 artists who have ever won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, as well as the first Hispanic to have won all four awards. Seems like it was only yesterday that Latino groups publicly criticized the Kennedy Center for excluding Latinos for a decade from the awards.

And, our voices were heard.

Gloria and Emilio Estefan recently were among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by President Barack Obama, is the nation's highest civilian honor and presented to individuals who have made special contributions to the security or national interests of the United States.

Looking back, I've been reflecting on the road that has led Latinos to this historic moment. It hasn't been an easy road.

It was 1999, and I still remember that very moment that changed everything for us - when Ricky Martin performed at the Grammys and the international superstar crossed over to mainstream. I loved him before he started 'living la vida loca' and was so happy that the world also fell in love with this former Menudo. It was the "Latin Explosion" in the making. Madonna and the entire audience were on their feet giving Ricky Martin a standing ovation.

The Latino influence is being felt more than ever before in pop culture, music, and entertainment. I couldn't be more proud. Latinos won big at the Golden Globes - Gael García Bernal, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Oscar Isaac - all had their moment. "On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan" on Broadway is a hit. While it may seem like an "explosion" it has been years in the making.

Right down the street from "On Your Feet!" is Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton," the tremendously successful musical, which tells the story of our founding fathers through hip-hop and rap. Its crossover appeal is a testament to how audiences are ready and craving new voices and faces. He was also tapped for Disney's latest animated musical film "Moana."

We are rewriting history through the eyes of a new generation.

The Estefans paved the way for Ricky Martin, Shakira, J.Lo and other Latino superstars, or as Gloria has said, she "pushed the door open" to mainstream America. Gloria and Emilio have a way of bringing us together and now more than ever with their musical.

"The Latin Explosion: A New America," an HBO documentary explored this very topic and tells the story of the growth of Latinos through the history of music, from the mambo craze of the 30s to the Rita Moreno's "West Side Story" Academy Award-winning performance to Romeo Santos' sold-out Yankee Stadium concerts.

Beyond Broadway and the small screen, Latinos are strengthening their voices. But Latinos influence more than the music and entertainment industry -- we have tremendous buying power and political clout.

Brands and companies need to take notice. We need to tell more of our stories and reflect this "Latin explosion" in the way we communicate to audiences and consumers.