Congress Votes in Favor of Creating National Museum of the American Latino

Works like Chicano artist Luis Jiménez’s sculpture “Vaquero” (1990) currently reside in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, but “but there are many gaps that will need to be filled,” says a feasibility study on the creation of a national Latinx museum. (photo by Tim Evanson via Flickr)

In a bipartisan, unanimous vote this morning, the House passed legislation to create a national Latinx museum in Washington, DC. Joining the Smithsonian Institution, the museum would “illuminate Latino contributions to the story of the United States,” according to the bill.

The National Museum of the American Latino Act (H.R. 2420) was introduced  last year by Representative José Serrano, a Democrat from New York, with the support of 295 co-sponsors. But the seed was planted almost two decades earlier. In 2003, former representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Xavier Becerra introduced a bill for a 23-member commission to study the feasibility of a future museum. The task force culminated its work in 2011, presenting a detailed report to then-President Barack Obama.

During its research, the commission found that while a “great wealth” of historical, cultural, and artistic materials related to Latinx contributions already reside in leading institutions, such as the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, “most museum directors think their collections are only the tip of the iceberg.”

“Most institutions have rich collections in Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban art, but there are many gaps that will need to be filled,” the report reads.

Although Latinx people comprise the country’s second largest racial or ethnic group behind white non-Hispanics, this will be the first Smithsonian museum specifically dedicated to their history and culture.

In 2018, the Smithsonian announced the creation of its first gallery devoted to Latinx experiences in the US. The 4,500-square-foot Molina Family Latino Gallery is set to open in 2022 on the first floor of the National Museum of American History. Though the announcement was celebrated, many suggested it was only a first step toward Latinx representation at the institution. Author Julissa Arce, for instance, pointed out that the National Air and Space Museum is some 161,000 square feet. “We need and deserve a museum of our own,” she wrote.

  “This long-overdue legislation will celebrate the contributions of generations of Latinos, acknowledging this truth: that Latino history is American history,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “And as it celebrates the past, this legislation will inspire the future, ensuring that the tens of millions of visitors to our nation’s capital each year can learn the full story of America.”

With the hashtag #LatinoMuseumNow, supporters of the move are now taking to social media urging their senators to pass S.1267. Prominent members of the Latinx community, including actress Eva Longoria, who served on the feasibility commission, have long backed the measure. The nonprofit organization Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino has also been advocating for the bill’s passing since its inception.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would establish a board of trustees to guide the Smithsonian’s creation of the museum. It would also authorize a 50% federal match to privately raised dollars for design and construction costs, as well as grants to help develop Latinx museums across the country.