House Approves Bill to Establish the National Museum of the American Latino

 House Approves Bill to Establish the National Museum of the American Latino

On July 27, the U.S. House of Representatives ratified a bill to establish the National Museum of the American Latino as a part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The legislation introduced by Democratic Representative Jose E. Serrano was approved by voice vote with 295 bipartisan co-sponsors. It will now go to the Republican-controlled Senate for a vote.

If the bill is passed by the Senate, it will ensure the allocation of 50% of federal funds for this project. The Smithsonian will have two years to acquire half of the funding and create a board of regents. Establishing the National Museum of the American Latino is estimated to cost $700 million and will be built on the National Mall. According to Serrano, the bill’s passage is a significant milestone for the Hispanic community.

“After nearly 20 years of work, the National Museum of the American Latino Act was finally considered and approved with overwhelming bipartisan support.”

Representative Jose E. Serrano (NY-15)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the bill an excellent achievement for Americans. “This long-overdue legislation will celebrate the contributions of generations of Latinos, acknowledging this truth: that Latino history is American history,” said Pelosi. “And as it celebrates the past, this legislation will inspire the future, ensuring that the tens of millions of visitors to our nation’s capital each year can learn the full story of America.”

The bill states that the board of regents will identify a proper location for the museum within two years. According to the bill, it will be a great opportunity for the visitors to ‘learn about Latino contributions’ as the museum will showcase the impact of history, art, culture, and life of Latinos on U.S. society. The bill also focused on developing educational programs and research centers in the United States with the Smithsonian Institution’s help to promote and exhibit the study, research, and publications on Latino life.

The Road to Creating the National Latino Museum

Though the National Latino Museum’s creation had the support of representatives, lawmakers, and significant figures such as Eva Longoria and Chita Rivera, it also faced serious vitriol. Critics that have opposed the idea of a separate museum for Latino Americans said it would ‘intensify racism in America.’ Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) told the New York Times in 2011 that he didn’t want “a situation where whites go to the original museum, African-Americans go to the African-American museum, Indians go to the Indian museum, Hispanics go to the Latino American museum. That’s not America.” 

The bill’s approval for the National Latino Museum is the result of a long struggle that started more than 20 years ago. In 1994, a report entitled “Willful Neglect” criticized the Smithsonian Institution for ignoring Latino Americans’ contributions and demanded the creation of a new museum.

According to the report: “The Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world, displays a pattern of willful neglect towards the estimated 25 million Latinos in the United States. Because of both indigenous roots and Spanish heritage, Latinos predate the British in the Americas. They have contributed significantly to every phase and aspect of American history and culture. Yet the Institution almost entirely excludes and ignores Latinos in nearly every aspect of its operations.”

In this regard, the first development took place in 2008, when a 23-membered presidential commission was formulated to explore the viability of the American Latino Museum. The commission submitted its detailed report in 2011, declaring the museum’s establishment as a feasible option. The creation of the museum also received the support of Danny Vargas, who served as National Chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly from 2007 to 2009 and encouraged lawmakers to support the bill.

“For over 500 years, the Latino community has been instrumental in the building, shaping, and defending of our great nation,” said Danny Vargas, Chairman of the Friends of the American Latino Museum (FRIENDS) board. “The time has come to commemorate those contributions in a national museum that will illuminate the American story for the benefit of everyone and serve to inspire future generations.”

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María Guillén

María Guillén

María is a writer, serial city dweller, and founder of Policybae. She's passionate about social justice advocacy, organizing action, and mobilizing change around sociopolitical issues. María holds a Master of Policy Management from Georgetown University and a dual degree in Public Relations and Communication Studies from Rowan University. Follow María on Twitter: @_mariaguillen

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