The possibility of a Latino-themed museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is closer to reality. On Thursday, Congress discussed the National Museum of the American Latino Act. With 218 cosponsors in the House, and 51 in the Senate, the bill would establish the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Latino.
“It is important to understand that without immigrants this nation would not be the great nation that it is, the largest economy in the world,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol following the hearing. “Latinos in the United States of America have always been a positive force.”
In addition to its main goal of commemorating the Latino contributions to the history of the United States, the museum will serve as a repository for the collection, study, research, publication, and establishment of exhibitions and programs related to Latino life, art, history, and culture.
The museum would also collaborate with other museums and educational institutions to promote the study and appreciation of Latino life, art, history, and culture.
Museum proponents say the Latino community represents a growing and significant segment of the population whose stories remain largely absent from key national museums, including the Smithsonian.
“We (Latinos) are embedded in the DNA of this country and we are an essential foundational thread woven into the very fabric of America,” ,” said Danny Vargas, President of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino. “We are not a recent patch being sown on the tapestry of America.”
Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW), added: “Latinos have been a part of the United States for generations, and that history can be demonstrated for people to learn about and celebrate in our institutions. The only way we can erase racism is through understanding and knowledge. That is what the Latino Museum would create.”
Two reports, one by the Smithsonian in 1994 and another by UCLA in 2018, contend Latino stories are the most underrepresented in the Smithsonian’s collections.
While legislation to create a national Latino museum has been introduced in the past –- including several years ago by then-Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) — this was the first time a bill has reached the committee level. It would still need to be voted on by the committee before moving forward.
Among the co-sponsors in the House are Reps. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Joaquín Castro (D-Texas). Co-sponsors of the companion Senate bill include Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.).
“We cannot forget the contribution, as Latinos, we have made for this country year after year,” said Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV). “It is time we recognize what we have done and how far we have come. It is time to stand together.”