Jorge Zamanillo Named Founding Director of National Museum of the American Latino

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Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

The National Museum of the American Latino now has a founding director. The Smithsonian announced Friday that Miami museum leader Jorge Zamanillo would take the reins of the most important cultural project for the Latino community nationwide.

“I like building from the ground up, starting with a clean slate,” Zamanillo told The Washington Post. “You can’t be short-minded. You know you’re not going to see a shovel in the ground for five or six years. You can’t get disillusioned. I’ll be in my 60s when it opens. To me, that’s exciting.”

“You read [Smithsonian Secretary] Lonnie Bunch’s book on how he created the African American Museum, and just the title alone, ‘A Fool’s Errand,’ you read it, and you realize it’s a job that requires someone with passion and stamina.”

Although the museum is more than a decade away from opening, Zamanillo’s work is critical and begins immediately.

As the New York Times explained, Zamanillo, 52, comes to the job from Miami, where he grew up, the son of immigrants from Cuba. He has worked at the community-based HistoryMiami Museum since 2000 in various capacities, most recently as executive director and CEO. He will begin his new position on May 2.

In Zamanillo’s 22 years at the Miami museum, which had an annual budget of $6.2 million, he served as curator of artifact collections, helping to build a repository that now includes more than 40,000 objects and more than two million images, and held other curatorial and executive positions.

Now, as founding director of the Museum of the American Latino, Zamanillo will embark on a titanic task to design programming that examines the entire history of the arrival of Latinos in the United States – from discrimination and stereotypes to their undeniable influence on the country’s culture.

“You want to make sure that you do it right,” Jorge Zamanillo told The Times. “And that means reaching out to Latinos and communities across the nation to make sure their stories are being captured.”