In a packed reception room at the U.S. Capitol, the members of the commission who studied the need for a National Museum of the American Latino spoke about their own stories.
And all eyes and cameras were on Eva Longoria, the actress and activist. Sorry Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
And Longoria, in a beige sheath and towering beige open-toed shoes, got right to one of the main points. The Hispanic history in the U.S. is a very long one. “I am a 9th generation American,” describing the homestead in Texas that had been given to her family in the 1600s. “I am living proof that Latinos have been here for a very long time.”
Longoria joined the other members of the commission in saying the understanding of the Latino story “benefits all Americans.”
The panel called for an establishment of a major museum on a site near the Capitol building that would come under the administration of the Smithsonian Institution.
“When one looks at the past, vast swaths of history have not been told,” said Secretary Salazar. The story of Latinos has been ignored, he said. “We are very essential to the tapestry of a strong nation.”
The desire to have a Latino museum has been gestating for years. Secretary Salazar and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Ca.) were long-time supporters and beamed when Henry R. Munoz III, the commission chair, announced the public sessions about the museum and the complex feasibility study had been “finished in under a year and under budget.” Becerra, speaking in Spanish, said of the commissioners that he not only wanted to “give them a hug, but a kiss.”
The official presentation of the report to Congress and the White House Thursday was a first step, everyone agreed. Ahead is a legislation procedure to authorize the museum, fund-raising in tough economic times, building a collection, a design process and reviews by all the oversight boards, including the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts. The supporters have proposed a private-public campaign to raise funds for an estimated $600 million project.
Though the Smithsonian has its hands full with 19 museums and its own fund-raising, officials said they would be glad to add a future Smithsonian American Latino Museum. “If Congress passes legislation to establish and fund a national Latino museum-the National Museum of the American Latino-the Smithsonian would be prepared to welcome it to the Smithsonian family of museums in Washington,” officials said in a statement.