The House on Monday approved legislation to begin the process of establishing a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, following more than two decades of advocacy for a national museum honoring Latinx people, history and culture.
“The Latino story is an American story, and our history is a central thread in the history of our nation,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a co-sponsor of the bill and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Monday. “Now, more than ever, America’s Latinos deserve to have our story told and our voices to be heard.”
The bipartisan bill, passed by a voice vote, follows advocacy that began in 1994, when a Smithsonian task force found the government-administered museums had “willfully neglected” Latinx people and culture in its programs, exhibits and collections.
Previous legislation to create a museum, beginning in 2003, failed to gain traction.
In 2008, President George W. Bush opened a presidential commission to study the possibility of creating the museum. In 2011, the commission’s members released a report saying construction would be feasible on the National Mall.
Under the House bill, a board would have up to two years to evaluate and select from several proposed sites on the National Mall. Half of the museum’s funds would come from the federal government, and half would come from donors and fundraising.
The Smithsonian already has a Latino Center dedicated to rotating exhibits and programs about Latinx history and culture. In 2022, it plans to open a permanent gallery space, housed within the National Museum of American History.
The process to create a permanent Latinx stand-alone museum would be similar to that of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016. That museum has since become one of the Smithsonian’s most popular, receiving about 2 million visitors last year.
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, focusing on Native and Indigenous peoples and cultures, opened in 2004.
A similar process is underway for launching a Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, which for years has been a temporary, rotating exhibition. Advocates are trying to raise $25 million for a permanent gallery space on the National Mall.
The Latinx museum House bill now heads to the Senate, where it has bipartisan support.
It’s unclear if President Donald Trump — whose administration has been separating Latinx families at the U.S.-Mexico border and began his presidential campaign in 2015 by calling Latinx immigrants “rapists” — would sign it into law.