The House of Representatives Approves Legislation to Create the National Latino Museum

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The U.S. House of Representatives has finally cast its vote on an anticipated cultural project: the National Museum of the American Latino, approved by a majority vote on Monday.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano introduced the House bill along with 295 co-sponsors that creates a Board of Trustees and gives this board a two-year deadline to determine the museum location.

They also designated federal funds for 50% of the museum’s costs, according to Forbes.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), one of the bill’s nearly 300 co-sponsors, placed it in the House floor schedule. He said that a Latino museum is more important than ever because of the current fraught political debate over immigration.

“I look forward to the day when we can walk through the doors of the Smithsonian’s newest museum and experience the full richness and diversity of Latino cultures and how they have helped to make America great,” Hoyer said.

“Almost 59 million Latino and Latina Americans call our nation home, and estimates show by 2060 one out of every four people in the United States will be of Latino heritage,” Rep. Will Hurd, the bill’s lead Republican sponsor, said in a statement. “To fully understand American history, we have to understand all our history. With our actions today, we are one step closer to cementing the stories, history and culture of the American Latino on the National Mall.”

The importance of being seen

This is not the first time that the National Latino Museum project has emerged as an imperative for the recognition of Hispanics in the country.

The idea of a national museum for the community first gained momentum in 1994, after a handful of critics attacked the Smithsonian for “willfully” neglecting Latinos and leaving them out of its exhibitions and programming, DCist reported.

Among the institution’s fiercest critics were always Eva Longoria and Chita Rivera; however, other prominent politicians such as former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) claimed that the segmentation of museums in the United States went precisely against the founding idea of the country.

Moran told The New York Times in 2011, “I don’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.”

But the simple fact that, even after centuries of history, a community that has been part of the country’s foundations is still not recognized institutionally is only part of a much larger problem.

One of the essential roles of cultural institutions — among museums, exhibition halls, and concerts — has been to preserve the heritage and to recognize and identify the communities that are part of society.

“With society facing issues such as poverty, inequality, intolerance, and discrimination, museums can help us understand, debate, and challenge these concerns,” the Museum Association explains.

“They can also enhance everyone’s life chances by breaking down barriers to access and inclusion.”

A report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in 2019 found that by working together with local governments, museums and cultural institutions become “places where social capital can be built between people from different communities.”

“The cultural force of the city and its built environment plays a significant role in shaping people’s sense of identity. In this context, museums are not just places where collections are exhibited. They symbolise shared heritage and identity as well as a sense of the past, present and future around which a community is organised,” the report argues. 

“The relative permanence of buildings and land, means they are not only sources of memory and reflection but also of contest over the control and meaning of space itself. Museums can therefore be considered a kind of public art serving many goals: animating public debates, creating connections and giving meaning to new places.”