Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Proposed National Museum of the American Latino Needs Bipartisan Action

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Proposed National Museum of the American Latino Needs Bipartisan Action

Article excerpt

In his last will and testament, Englishman James Smithson bequeathed all his property to the U.S. government. The stated intent was to establish an institution to "increase and diffuse knowledge" to mankind. In 1846, Congress honored his wishes by establishing the Smithsonian Institution.

Since then, the Smithsonian Institution has grown from one to 19 museums, nine research centers and a national zoo. In fact, it is the largest museum complex in the world. And it receives 75 percent of its more than $450 million annual budget from tax dollars.

Now, if the National Museum of the American Latino becomes a reality, it would bring to 20 the number of museums under the auspices of the Smithsonian.

The cost of the new museum is estimated at more than $400 million. Part of that cost would be covered by a decade of fundraising.

But the historic proposal faces some obstacles. First, both houses of Congress must pass the Smithsonian American Latino Act (House Bill 3459 and Senate Bill 1868) authorizing creation of the new museum. The second challenge is authorization to designate the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as the site of the new museum.

"In terms of the museum, we're all of the same opinion, and that is that we have a duty and a mission to represent our country's history," said Richard Kurin, undersecretary for history, art and culture and overseer of half a dozen of the Smithsonian's museums.

"How can you teach American history without teaching about Spanish conquistadors and the contributions of Latinos? This is part of the heritage of all of us, not only Latinos. So if Congress indeed passes a law, then the museum would be very proud and honored to have that charge," said Kurin, who also heads the Smithsonian Latino Center.

The vacant Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, a red brick structure measuring more than 300,000 square feet, would be spacious enough to house the proposed National Museum of the American Latino, which would reflect contributions by Latinos to history, art, science, music and culture, dating to the pre-founding of the United States.

"The Latino community is a patriotic community of Americans who have served this nation since its inception and is more than 50 million strong today, according to the latest 2010 Census figures. Despite this strength, the story of Latinos' contributions to the U.S. has yet to be fully told in a museum in the nation's capital," said Congressman Xavier Becerra, Democrat from California, in a statement reiterating his support.

Becerra first introduced bipartisan legislation calling for the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino Commission to explore the Latino museum idea in 2003. In 2008, legislation was passed and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.

The 23-member bipartisan NMAL commission was chaired by Henry Muñoz and represented bipartisan leadership from across the nation. During a two-year period, commissioners crisscrossed the country asking Latinos what they would like to see in a museum that chronicles contributions by Latinos.

"We had the most comprehensive conversation in the history of this country with the American people. And there's a very strong feeling on the part of the people that the history of this country will never be fully told until the history and heritage of Latinos is told. So the need for the museum was validated by the commission's work," said Muñoz, a San Antonio architect.

Another conclusion reached by the Muñoz-led commission is that this country will experience a dramatic spike in the Latino population in the future. Therefore, a major presence in the nation's capital is not only imperative, but justified.

"The most important task the commission had was to connect with Latinos and inspire them. The future of this country is increasingly Latino. That said, there is a consensus among commissioners and Latinos that the National American Latino Museum belongs in the heart of the National Mall," said Muñoz. …

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