Thursday's Latin Grammy Awards, which many expected to be a stage for celebrity activism on burning issues related to U.S. immigration and violence in Mexico, remained mostly apolitical — perhaps by design.
The awards show, which aired immediately after President Obama's landmark executive action on immigration and amid massive street protests in Mexico, featured Calle 13's opening shout-out to the missing students of Ayotzinapa and a few celebratory words by Latin Grammy host Eugenio Derbez. But others — including Mexican artists Camila and Banda el Limon — remained silent on the issues rattling their home country.
Backstage, however, performers spoke more freely on current events.
Telenovela star Kuno Becker, who presented awards during the broadcast, had this to say.
“I think that it’s crucial, indispensable, and essential that we now get concrete action so our community in the U.S. gets recognized. We contribute a lot to this country in many ways. And I think that’s it’s time that now something concrete happens so they recognize us.”
White-hot urban Latin singer J Balvin happily commented to Fusion on Obama’s announcement, and in English. "What's going on right now with Obama is amazing," he said.
Balvin’s no stranger to a hard-scrabble, immigrant hustle. In his teens and early 20s, he scraped by with family and friends in the U.S. by lingering on a student visa, walking dogs in New York and painting houses in Miami.
But after he answered Fusion’s question and left the press-room stage, a handler for the Latin Grammy show itself intervened. In English, he announced that they would allow no more political questions, to rousing boos from the assembled press.
The request went ignored, pretty much. By the time star actress Roselyn Sanchez appeared for questions, another reporter asked her, too, to comment on immigration reform.
"It gave validity and credibility to the fact that currently, Latinos come to the country to work. We have to respect them [and recognize] the importance of stopping the act of separating families who, too, come to this country to be productive."
Calle 13, too, used their media-center turn to again speak for Mexico. "It’s not about politics, it’s about human rights," said Residente. "Even though we’re Puerto Rican, what happens in other countries affects us, and we speak about it.”
The missing Ayotzinapa students, meanwhile, later got at least one more shout-out from a Latin Grammys megastar, albeit via social media. Ruben Blades, who earlier won Best Tango Album, posted a photo of himself, post-broadcast, sporting this shirt and matching Calle 13’s Residente.
Some of the strongest activism, however, came before the primetime show began, when the academy handed out more than a dozen awards during a pre-telecast. Poncho Lizárraga, of the group Banda el Recodo, which scored a win for Best Banda Album, addressed both the unrest in Mexico over the disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa.
“We are, in our hearts, with the Mexican people. We want a country with peace, and security—where we can walk with our children and families, throughout all of beautiful Mexico. We need to have faith that the news that President Obama tonight … will be an announcement that will favor all Latinos, all immigrants, to be able to live in and enjoy this country that’s always opened its doors to everyone. We have to stay grateful in this life for all that’s beautiful and marvelous about this country. Many people criticize this great country, but the truth is, I can’t criticize it, because it’s given us a lot, and keeps giving us a lot.”
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.