A presidential commission, created during the Bush administration to study the feasibility of a National Museum of the American Latino, is recommending a new museum be built near the Capitol.
The commission report, to be delivered to the White House and Congress Thursday, recommends that the museum be part of the Smithsonian Institution. It suggested the name The Smithsonian American Latino Museum.
In very clear language, the report says national recognition of Hispanic contributions to America is long overdue.
“The Mall, more than any other public space in our country does indeed tell the story of America, and yet that story is not complete. There must also be a living monument that recognizes that Latinos were here well before 1776 and that in this new century, the future is increasingly Latino, more than fifty million people and growing,”the report argues.
The museum would follow a broad sweep of history recognizing 500 years of contributions of the Latino community to military, economic, government, arts and culture. The report immediately addressed some of the apprehension around creating separate museums for different ethnic groups. It described a broader purpose.
“At this moment in our country’s history when cultural understanding could not be more important to the enduring strength of our democratic ideals, we ask that you consider the importance of creating The Smithsonian American Latino Museum not only as a monument for Latinos, but as a 21st Century learning laboratory rooted in the mission that every American should have access to the stories of all Americans,” the report explained.
The bill establishing the commission was signed by President George W. Bush in 2008. The recommendation to go forward comes from a 23-member commission that started studying the project’s merits in September 2009. It was chaired by Henry R. Munoz III, an architect and political activist from San Antonio, Tex. Members included producer Emilio Estefan, Jr. and actress Eva Longoria.
In the report, “To Illuminate the American Story For All,” the commission pinpointed land on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol. The Capitol Site faces the Capitol and is within the definitions of the National Mall. It is a block away from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.
The desire to be part of the Smithsonian will raise the question of whether the Smithsonian is already stretched too thin with 19 museums and if the Smithsonian could take on added financial responsibility. The Smithsonian is already raising funds for a $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open in 2015. Congress has pledged to provide half of the costs of that project.
Noting that the Latino Museum would cost $600 million, the commission presented a plan to initially only draw from the private sector. It said it would raise $300 million from non-government sources and then request the balance from Congress over a 10-year period. It said expenses for planning and initial programming could be supported by nonfederal funds for the first six years.
Subjects in the museum would include the establishment of the first European city, St. Augustine, Fla. in 1565, 41 years before the settlement of Jamestown, Va. to the current representation in culture, politics and business.
The Smithsonian has had a complicated history with its display and treatment of Hispanic culture. “Willful Neglect,” a 1994 report, prompted by the Smithsonian, slammed the institution. Out of that controversy the Smithsonian Latino Center, a program office was created to sponsor exhibitions and programs. It has started a virtual museum.
View Map: Proposed site for National Museum of the American Latino in a larger map