Vice President Joe Biden Attends Latino Inaugural Celebration

Latino artists performed at the Kennedy Center.

ByABC News
January 18, 2013, 4:42 PM

Jan. 20, 2013— -- Dozens of Latino celebrities lauded the re-election of President Barack Obama and raised a glass to the power of the Latino vote on Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

And a surprise guest joined the revelers.

Vice President Joe Biden stepped on stage to wild cheers and a standing ovation. It marked the first time a vice president has attended a Latino inaugural celebration, and underscored the importance the White House has placed on the Latino vote.

"I think you underestimate your power and what you have done for America and what you are about to do," he said, adding that the influence of Latino voters was noticed not just nationwide, but throughout the hemisphere.

More than 70 percent of Latino voters cast ballots for Obama, but some, especially young DREAMers, expressed displeasure that he did not keep his promise to pass immigration reform in his first term, and they have pressured him to make it a priority this year.

Obama has said that the issue will be a key focus in the coming months, but other topics, including the nation's gun laws, have taken precedence in recent weeks. Biden, however, affirmed the president's promise.

"We said from the beginning that the Hispanic community was on the cusp of realizing its place in America, one that is so richly deserved," Biden said.

The lack of Latino representation in Obama's Cabinet has been an issue for some Hispanics in recent weeks. With the recent resignation announcements of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, no Latinos remain. Some groups, including the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, have called for Obama to nominate more Latinos. The NHLA even sent a letter to the president with the names of 19 potential candidates.

And the Kennedy Center itself has sparked criticism recently from Latinos for a lack of diversity. Chita Rivera is the only U.S.-born Latino to ever receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor. As a result, the center has set up an advisory committee to look into the way winners are selected.

But none of the artists or presenters, including actress and inauguration co-chair Eva Longoria, who played host for the evening, mentioned the criticism.

"We're here," Biden said, "to celebrate Hispanics."

And Longoria called on audience members to do just that - celebrate the contribution of Latinos not just in the arts but in politics, medicine and other fields.

"The story of Latinos," she said, "is the story of the United States."

A series of performers, from piano protégé Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner to the renowned Chita Rivera, took to the stage on the eve of Obama's second term.

"It just feels good" to celebrate Obama's reelection, singer Marc Anthony said before praising attendees for helping put the president back in the Oval Office for a second term.

Wilmer Valderrama "freaked out" a little over a medley by legends Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno – the first time the two have performed together at the Kennedy Center – before reading an excerpt from the poem that Richard Blanco will give at Monday's inauguration.

"When I was a little Cuban boy," Valderrama began, to cheers.

And while the atmosphere was festive and the glitter and sky-high stilettos plenty, politics was not absent.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus appeared on stage before the performances kicked off, with chairman Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

"Our community cannot continue to suffer from the horror and pain that anti-immigrant policies inject," he said. "Enough is enough."

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who gave the keynote address at the recent Democratic National Convention and is widely thought to be a future potential presidential candidate, called on Latinos to continue being politically active.

"There is no question that we've come a long way. There is also no question that there is still a lot of work to do," Castro said. "The voice of America's future is in this room and it calls us forward."