With the nation’s capital hosting an African American museum and American Indian museum, should a Latino museum come next?
The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016. It was the sixth-most visited Smithsonian museum last year, behind only such decades-long mainstays as Air and Space, Natural History, American History — and ranking even higher than the National Zoo.
The National Museum of the American Indian also attracted 1.1 million visitors last year, after opening in 2004.
Yet there is no similar Latino museum, despite more Americans claiming Hispanic or Latinx affiliation than those other two groups combined. Hispanics and Latinos currently comprise 18.1% of the population, compared to 13.4% for African-Americans and 1.3% for Native Americans or American Indians.
What the legislation does
The National Museum of the American Latino Act would create a Washington, D.C. museum once and for all.
Such a museum has been supposedly in the works going back at least to a congressional commission to study the subject created by President George W. Bush in 2008.
A site would have to be selected within two years of the bill’s passage, although it would be several years after that before a museum could actually be fully planned, constructed, staffed, and opened to the public.
The bill would cost $20 million in fiscal year 2020, and then “such sums as are necessary for each fiscal year thereafter” — which could be anything.
It was introduced in the House on April 30 as bill number H.R. 2420, by Rep. José Serrano (D-NY15). It was introduced in the Senate the next day on May 1 as bill number S. 1267, by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the capital needs a building devoted to the experience of the nation’s second-largest demographic group, especially considering other demographic groups have their own museums as well.
“It’s hard to believe that in the year 2019, a museum devoted to Latino history does not already exist,” Sen. Menendez said in a press release. “From day one, Hispanics have shaped this nation in countless ways — as military leaders, as pioneers in business and the arts, as activists and elected officials — all of them committed to the American dream.”
“Our legislation will establish a National Museum of the American Latino right where it belongs, here in our nation’s capital alongside the Native American Museum, the African American Museum, and the Smithsonian’s many other fine institutions.”
“Latinos have played an integral part in America’s history since its founding. Their stories, contributions, and sacrifices deserve a place in Washington, D.C. that honors and showcases an important part of our shared history,” Rep. Serrano said in a press release. “With passage of this legislation, we will be one step closer to making the American Latino Museum a reality.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that such a museum would serve to further stratify people into designated subgroups, in a way that should give even those on the left pause.
“The notion that they constitute an ethno-racial pentagon along with African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and non-Latino whites is a dubious social construct of very recent pedigree. That a museum would help perpetuate this division — literally cement it — is a… reason to oppose it,” Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mike Gonzalez wrote in a _Washington Post_op-ed.
“Dividing the country along these cleavages — an official policy that began only in the late 1970s and quickly migrated to the academy, the labor market and the culture — has contributed to a degree of social fragmentation that is only now becoming apparent,” Gonzalez continued. “What started as a perhaps well-meaning concept stands behind much of today’s palpable societal angst. Even liberals are starting to worry about what national fracturing is doing to social solidarity.”
Odds of passage
The House version has attracted a bipartisan 19 cosponsors: 11 Democrats and eight Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, likely in the subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
The Senate version has attracted a bipartisan nine bipartisan cosponsors: five Republicans and four Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.