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These Latinos Were Honored with National Medals for Art, Humanities

Some of the most notable Latino artists, musicians and writers were recognized by the White House for their cultural contributions.

President Barack Obama awarded the National Medal of Art and Humanities to five renowned Hispanics who have played key roles in elevating the experiences, culture and art of Latinos and weaving them into American society through their body of work. Their work has broken barriers, helped tell the civil rights struggles of Latinos, expanded the understanding of Latinos in the U.S. and added to the many dimensions of the American mosaic.

Mel Brooks Jokes Around at White House Medal Ceremony 0:49

"We believe that the arts and the humanities are in many ways reflective of our national soul. They're central to who we are as Americans: dreamers and storytellers and innovators and visionaries," Obama said.

Four received the National Medal of Arts: Author Sandra Cisneros, conjunto musician Santiago Jimenez Jr., film director, actor and civil rights activist Luis Valdez and playwright Moisés Kaufman.

The two recipients of the National Humanities Medal were Rudolfo Anaya, known as the father or sometimes godfather of Chicano literature, and acclaimed chef and humanitarian José Andrés.

Image: President Obama Awards 2015 National Medal Of Arts And National Humanities Medal
Author Sandra Cisneros is presented with the National Medal of Arts during an East Room ceremony at the White House on Sept. 22. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Cisneros, the award-winning author of several books such as "The House on Mango Street" has tackled issues of race, gender and class "through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures," as the White House stated when they first announced the medal.

RELATED: Chicana author Sandra Cisneros reveals pain and suffering were inspiration for latest book

Barack Obama, Santiago Jimenez, Jr.
President Barack Obama presents musician Santiago Jimenez, Jr., with the 2015 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. Susan Walsh / AP

Jiménez is one of the best-known "conjunto" artists, a unique style born in Texas that is anchored by the accordian. The genre that blends the sounds of the American southwest and Mexico, was also made famous by his father, Santiago Jiménez.

Jiménez won a National Heritage Fellowship for his lifetime achievement. Apart from his father, his brother is accordionist Flaco Jiménez, who has won six Grammy Awards, including a 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts.

RELATED: Flaco Jiménez on the State of Conjunto, the True Heart of Tejano Music

Image: US-POLITICS-OBAMA-ARTS-MEDAL
President Obama presents playwright, director and actor Luis Valdez with the 2015 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Sept. 22. SAUL LOEB / AFP - Getty Images

Valdez, a director, playwright, actor and writer, was honored for bringing Chicano culture to the American public through works like "Zoot Suit," which told the trial of Chicanos who were beaten and stripped of their zoot suits in racially-motivated attacks and the award-winning movie "La Bamba," a biopic about rock 'n roll musician Ritchie Valens.

He also founded "Teatro Campesino" which "created and performed "actos" or short skits on flatbed trucks and helped dramatize the struggles of the nation's farmworkers. First staged during the California grape boycotts organized by Cesar Chávez and Dolores Huerta, the Teatro performed across the U.S. and Mexico. Teatro Campesino is considered an integral part of the Chicano civil rights struggle.

Kaufman, Award-winning playwright and director, was recognized for his contributions to American theater.

"His work sensitively probes questions of culture and sexuality," stated the White House when they announced the medal. Kaufman, who is Venezuelan-American, has been nominated for an Emmy and a Tony. One of his best-known works, made into a play and a movie, is "The Laramie Project," based on the real-life death of Matthew Shephard, a young gay college student who was tortured, beaten and left to die. His death galvanized proponents of hate crime legislation.

U.S. President Barack Obama awards the 2015 National Humanities Medal to author Anaya at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the 2015 National Humanities Medal to author Rudolfo Anaya (R) at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 22, 2016. GARY CAMERON / Reuters

Anaya received the National Humanities Medal for his portrayal of the American southwest and the depiction of the Chicano experience.

The novelist is best known for his seminal novel "Bless Me, Ultima," for which he won the Quinto Sol award. Considered a literature classic, it was recently made into a movie.

Other works by him include "Heart of Aztlán" and "Tortuga" and the Sonny Baca series of detective novels. Anaya received the National Medal of Arts in 2003.

RELATED: Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me Ultima" to premiere on the big screen in El Paso

U.S. President Barack Obama presents chef Jose Andres with the 2015 National Humanities Medal
U.S. President Barack Obama presents chef Jose Andres with the 2015 National Humanities Medal during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, September 22, 2016. SAUL LOEB / AFP - Getty Images

Andrés, a Spanish American, received the National Humanities medal for his innovative food techniques as well as his emphasis on addressing issues of hunger and food insecurity. He was named one of Time 100's most influential people and has received the James Beard Award. Andees also worked closely with the White House on immigration reform issues.

RELATED: Jose Andrés Dumps Planned Restaurant at Trump Hotel

Andrés made headlines in 2015 when he withdrew plans to open one of his restaurants at Donald Trump's new hotel in Washington, D.C. following Trump's comments about Mexico sending "criminals" and "rapists" to the U.S. He was subsequently sued by Trump.

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