Supporters of a museum on the national mall in Washington, D.C. that focuses on the country’s Latino community brought their case to a congressional hearing in the nation’s capital this week.
Much like the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian, a Latino venue would highlight the contributions of an ethnic group and serve as an educational tool for other communities, said Danny Vargas, chair of Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, a group that raises funds to establish the museum.
“There are many contributions Latinos have made to the U.S. Military, arts, business and in every aspect of American society and there are so many stories left untold,” Vargas told SFMN.
“Unfortunately, our history books are incomplete, just like our museums are incomplete. There are a lot of pages missing. There’s a lot to be told in terms of the expansion of America, not from Virginia to the South, but from the Caribbean up to Florida, Texas, California and even as far north as Wyoming.”
The effort to establish a national Latino museum was started in 2003 by then-Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and then-California Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra, who sponsored legislation to create the museum. The bill did not advance.
Last May, a group of legislators led by Democrat Rep. José Serrano of New York reintroduced the Becerra-Lehtinen legislation. On Wednesday, Serrano told the Congressional committee that he feels confident the bill will pass this time around. He also urged more colleagues to lend their support.
“With 263 cosponsors in the House and counting, and 27 in the U.S. Senate, we are closer than ever to turning this dream into a reality.”
Serrano explained that the museum would be “paid for just as other museums have, with 50 percent of the cost coming from private donations and 50 percent from federal funds.”
Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie Bunch, the former director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, told the committee a Latino museum is a worthy investment.
“In just over four months, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has hit the one million visitor mark and since its opening, the museum has welcomed more than six million tourists,” said Bunch. “This is an indication of how successful a museum of American Latinos can be. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, this is an American issue … to create a stronger future.”
Vargas said the most important step is to get the bill passed. “As we continue to do our fundraising for our efforts, we also would find it beneficial to have the bill passed so we can convince the donors that this is a real, tangible, material initiative that’s got the backing of Congress and the force of law behind it.”