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Despite Obstructionism, the Latino History Museum and the Women’s Museum Will Be a Reality

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What has been hard work for more than twenty years is now a reality: Congress has finally approved the creation of two Smithsonian museums one focusing on the history of the Latin American and the other on the history of American women.

According to the Washington Post, the 5,500-page spending and relief bill Congress passed Monday calls on the Smithsonian to begin “the lengthy process of creating the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum,” giving the institution permission to hire staff, collect artifacts and present programs.

The proposed museums would be the Smithsonian’s first new facilities since the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016. Like the $540 million project, the new museums would be funded with 50 percent federal funds and 50 percent private donations, the Post said.

Without a doubt, this is a great achievement for those who know the importance of institutional recognition of cultural diversity.

“For too long, women’s stories have been left out of the telling of our nation’s history, but with this vote, we begin to rectify that,” Rep. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the primary sponsor of the House bill on the women’s history museum, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Americans of all ages deserve to see and be inspired by the remarkable women who helped shape this nation. Seeing role models doing the thing to which we aspire can change the course of someone’s life. How fitting that we pass this bill as we mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment and in the year in which we elected our first woman vice president.”

For their part, representatives and supporters of the Latino Museum project have celebrated the end of a tortuous and challenging road begun in 1994, when a report found that the Smithsonian “displays a pattern of willful neglect” toward the nation’s Latinos, according to the New York Times.

In response, the museum established a Smithsonian Latino Center in 1997, and in 2008 Congress authorized a commission to study the issue, leading to a recommendation to create a 310,000-square-foot museum on the National Mall.

“It’s one of those days when you feel the presence of others who have been a part of a movement for so many years,” said Henry R. Muñoz III, who chaired the congressional commission studying a potential Latino museum. “Not just the people who believe there should be a national Latino museum, but the veterans, the artists, the scientists, all the people who have created a Latino imprint on this country. I’m very emotional for myself and my community.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has supported the Latino museum since he was a House member in 2003, said he looks forward to taking his granddaughters to the museum.

“We have overcome tremendous obstacles and unbelievable hurdles to get to this historic moment, but, as I’ve said before, Latinos are used to overcoming obstacles,” Menendez said, a lead sponsor of the Latino museum bill. “With this vote, Latinos and Latinas across our nation will finally have their stories, struggles, and impact on our country validated by the United States Congress.”

However, as the Times concludes, it will likely be decades before both museums open their doors. Legislators have yet to allocate funds for both the physical buildings and the acquisition of objects for their collections. In the case of the Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened its doors in 2016, it has been 13 years since the legislation was passed in 2003 to open.