A Dream Becomes Reality: The National Museum of the American Latino

Congress finally approved the National Museum of the American Latino Act (H.R. 2420), which is an initiative to create the museum on the National Mall, on December 3. The Museum will commemorate over 500 years of American Latino contributions to the nation’s military, sciences, economic power, civil rights, and the arts. Now having been passed by the House and the Senate, all that remains is the President’s signature. 

Spearheading the bill is The Friends of the American Latino Museum (FRIENDS), the only organization advocating for a National Latino Museum for the past two decades. This change in legislation is not only a win for FRIENDS but the latin community as a whole.

“We are thrilled that the Congress voted to approve the National Museum of the American Latino Act and we are so grateful for the many years of bipartisan support. We look forward to the President signing the bill into law,” said Danny Vargas, Chairman of the FRIENDS board. In the age of a culturally aware society, it’s never been more important to highlight every aspect of American history, which includes Latino history.

Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX) expresses this same sentiment in his recent statement: “To fully understand American history, we have to understand all our history. That includes the contributions of the many Latinos, past and present, who have had a tremendous impact on our nation’s history and culture. After more than 20 years of work, we were able to get this bill unanimously through the House, and today we reach another milestone with its approval through this year’s funding bill. I am proud to be a leader in this effort, and I look forward to the day when the stories of my constituents are forever memorialized for millions of expected visitors from all over the world to see” (americanlatinomuseum.org, 2020).

Many people in the latin community are thrilled to hear this news including those in Western Pennsylvania.

In a recent localized survey conducted by Presente, 95% of the participants agreed that the creation of a National Latino Museum is not only great but way past due.

But with excitement also comes trepidation. In a recent article written by Beatriz Garcia of Al Dia News the author explains how the U.S. has a history of not understanding or even supporting Latin American art. “Latin American art has been highly-valued in the country, to the point, said one Cuban collector, that the U.S. market goes crazy for art made on the island. But if the artist had grown up in the United States, they lose all interest”, says Garcia.

The U.S. tends to love the idea of Latino culture in its individualized form, but in the context of American history it has often gone underappreciated. However, Garcia continues to be hopeful but cautious about the creation of the new museum. “With the recently approved Smithsonian American Latino Museum proposal — a project for which there has been fighting for nearly 20 years — the more than 60 million American Latinx individuals, whose culture is so diverse that even the label “hurts,” will have the opportunity to see reflected the cultural and artistic legacy they have been sowing in the country, although it has rarely been given the importance it deserves” (aldianews.com, 2020). 

In addition to the art that will be featured in the museum, other concerns include the name of the museum itself. One local member of the community argues that the title should include the term hispanic and not latino. “The Spanish came to the present-day United States 100 years earlier and explored the entire South from Florida to California. They created cities, forts, missions, hospitals, and also contributed to the independence of the USA with money and men for the military”, says the community member.

In their comment, the member also references the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, which represented the end of the Mexican-American war and added an additional 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the land that makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming (History.com, 2020). Since then Hispanic heritage has continued to become more vibrant not only in these areas but across the entire country. Because of this several people like this member believe that hispanic heritage should be highlighted in the new museum as well as its title. 

In conclusion, regardless of what the museum is called or includes, the importance of the National Museum of the American Latino Act (H.R. 2420) being passed in itself is a victory that not only the Latin community should celebrate but all of America in its entirety. 


Written for PRESENTE by Rebecca Hansborough


SOURCES: https://americanlatinomuseum.org/victory-legislation-passed/%20 | https://aldianews.com/articles/culture/social/museums-dont-understand-american-latinx-art-they-love-latin-american/61758%20 | https://www.history.com/topics/mexican-american-war/treaty-of-guadalupe-hidalgo#:~:text=The%20war%20officially%20ended%20with,New%20Mexico%2C%20Utah%20and%20Wyoming

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