House approves funding for new National Museum of the American Latino

Border Report

Smithsonian-affiliated facility to host exhibits celebrating contributions of Hispanics to American society

In this March 7, 1979, file photo, United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez talks to striking Salinas Valley farmworkers during a large rally in Salinas, Calif. California and several other states will honor Chavez by closing schools and state offices Friday, March 31,. 2017, the 90th anniversary of the birth of a man who went from a grape and cotton picker to an enduring hero for laborers, Latinos and justice seekers of all kinds. Farmworkers in four states plan to march Saturday and Sunday in honor of Chavez, who died in 1993, and in protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Efforts to establish a space showcasing the history and contributions of Latinos to American society got a boost in the House this week.

The lower chamber passed the National Museum of the American Latino Act (HR 2420), which avails Fiscal Year 2020 funds for the Smithsonian to provide a space for collections, study, research, publication and exhibits of Latino life, art and history.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

The bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who represents a portion of El Paso.

“Almost 59 million Latino and Latina Americans call our nation home, and estimates show by 2060 one out of every four people in the United States will be of Latino heritage,” Hurd said. “I’m proud to take part in this effort to collect, present and protect —in one place — artifacts, stories and collections that reflect upon this important history.”

The bill outlines four possible sites for the museum:

  • The Arts and Industries Building of the Smithsonian at the National Mall
  • A National Park Service lot bounded by Independence Avenue, Jefferson Drive, Raoul Wallenberg Place, and 14th Street Southwest in Washington, D.C.
  • The area bounded by 3rd Street and 1st Street, Northwest and Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, currently under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol
  • The facility and grounds on the National Mall between 12th and 14th Streets, Southwest, and Jefferson Drive and Independence Avenue, Southwest, currently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture.
Mexican citizens were recruited to work in American farms during World War II under the Bracero Program. (History Library/National Trust for Historic Preservation via AP)

It also authorizes up to $20 million in 2020 for the Smithsonian to carry out the act and “such sums as are necessary for each fiscal year thereafter.”

President Obama places the Medal of Honor on Spc. Santiago J. Erevia in 2014. (AP photo)

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Republicans like Texas’ John Cornyn support it.

“Close to 40 percent of all Texans identify as Hispanic, and their history is an integral part of Texas history that must be recognized and remembered,” said Cornyn, co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “By creating a new museum in the Smithsonian Institution, we can honor American Latino contributions and highlight their stories for future generations.”

HR 2420 also has the support of the League of United Latin American Citizens. LULAC is the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the country.

“We are very much in support of this bill. It’s long overdue,” said Vanessa Cardenas, senior counsel for LULAC. “We are experiencing a lack of representation of our culture in American society and museums. We have made significant contributions in every aspect of society and it’s time for the government to right this wrong.”

Astronaut Jose M. Hernandez, mission specialist on Space Shuttle mission STS-128 to the International Space Station. (photo courtesy NASA)

Cardenas envisions the museum having exhibits representing Latino families who inhabited the land even before the United States became a country, as well as the recent immigrant experience.

“The Latino community is not monolithic. It is a very diverse and vibrant collection of communities. There is so much that needs to be a part of it,” she said.

Latinos who’ve made an impact on American society range from the farmworkers from Mexico invited by the U.S. government to work on farms during World War II under the Bracero Program, to servicemen who’ve received the Medal of Honor to astronauts. There are also civil rights advocates like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

LULAC and other Hispanic groups have waged a decades-long campaign to increase Latino representation in government and publicly-funded spaces.

Cesar Chavez (AP file photo)

Less than 2% of national monuments and historic sites are dedicated to women or communities of color, according to LULAC. 

“A National Museum of the American Latino is critical to combat ignorance, increase understanding and show appreciation for American Latinos in this nation. The over 60M Latinos in the US make up the largest minority group of eligible voters, $1.5 trillion in spending power, and 36% of our military,” the organization said in a statement to Border Report.

Cardenas said the museum is one step in the right direction. “This is an easy bill to support. It’s the right thing to do and I think it’s a tangible way for (Republicans in the Senate) to show support for our community and if it gets to the President’s desk it’s a way for the President to acknowledge our contributions,” she said.

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