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Effort to Establish National Museum of the American Latino Gains Traction

An effort to establish an American Latino Smithsonian Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is picking up steam.

Last week, board members from the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, Chairman’s Advisory Council Members and former Commissioners met with the Vice President’s Office and Congressional officials to discuss the passing of the bill, National Museum of the American Latino Act. The legislation would authorize establishment of the museum.

The museum would focus on how Latino culture and history have impacted United States society, according to the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, an organization that is spearheading the initiative. With the meetings last week, the legislation has gained more traction and signatures.

Estuardo RodriguezEstuardo Rodriguez

“The impact [of the museum] would be one of a very central part of our effort to reposition the Latino population as a foundational culture in the United States,” said Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas, director of the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture and an expert on Latino culture and heritage. “By collecting, preserving and displaying Latino art past and present, it’ll show not only Americans but the whole world that the United States is a Latino nation, too, in terms of its origins and foundations. Our culture has been dismissed as a foreign culture for many years.”

Since the creation of the bill in June 2017, there have been mixed reviews from both the Senate and the House side. However, Estuardo Rodriguez, executive director of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, said he believes that creation of the museum will provide an educational opportunity to learn more about Latino communities.

“There are stories that we don’t talk about enough in our classrooms,” said Rodriguez. “So if we can’t even get into the curriculum at most middle schools and high schools, at the very least, our National Mall should set the foundation for the full American history. I think it would have a great impact and be a place for people to come together and feel proud.”

Though the bill was created last year, the legislation to study the viability of the museum started back in 2005, with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen R-Fla., who is set to retire this year, as a co-sponsor. The legislation  passed in 2008 and the Commission Report was introduced to Congress and the Obama White House in 2011, according to Rodriguez.

The establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture has created a blueprint for the potential American Latino Museum. Similar to the African-American museum, the American Latino museum would be a 50-50 public-private partnership in terms of the funding. Supporters of the museum said a capital campaign would eventually need to be established to raise about $350 million.

“We are very grateful for the path that the African-American museum has established because it has allowed us to more easily approach many private donors to see what their interest is and how they might start laying the foundation for this capital campaign,” said Rodriguez.

If the bill is passed by Congress, there would be an 18-month study that would focus on the costs, feasibility and location of the museum, according to Rodriguez. With all the funding and the remaining legislative process that needs to occur, Rodriguez predicts it will take another five or six years before the museum could become a reality.

Like the African-American museum, which has witnessed large crowds since its debut in 2016, observers predict similar success with an American Latino museum.

“I do think [the American Latino Museum] would be very well received,” said Dr. Victor Sáenz, the Educational Leadership and Policy department chair at the University of Texas at Austin. “I think it would be similar to what we saw with the reception of the African-American museum. I would hope that it would be received with not only open arms, but with the opportunity to educate and enlighten all communities across the country about the many contributions of the Latino community, both artistically and culturally.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].


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