Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Should we build a Latino Smithsonian museum? Some Hispanic politicians think so. Piggybacking on the attention garnered by the opening this weekend of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, they have renewed a push for the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino.
It’s an idea that sounds good — until you think about it for about three seconds.
This is not just because museums are for dead things (“The Louvre is a morgue; you go there to identify your friends,” the French artist Jean Cocteau famously complained), but because it would breathe life into concepts from which we need to move away.
The Latino museum is being championed by Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who doesn’t even bother to hide the “me-tooism.” Just a couple of weeks before the opening of the African American Museum, Becerra introduced a bill calling for the Latino museum to be placed in the Arts and Industries Building on the Mall. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) moved parallel legislation in the Senate.
“It provides inspiration, and it really does give you locomotion to try to move this forward,” Becerra told The Post. “So many [of the African American Museum’s supporters] have come to me and said, ‘You’re next.’ It pumps you up.”
And that’s just it. Of all the reasons this is a bad idea, we can start with the fact that the experiences of African Americans cannot be compared to those of any other group — especially immigrants and their descendants.
That would include the vast majority of the 56 million people the Census Bureau instructs to identify themselves as “Hispanic” — who can’t all be descended from the estimated 100,000 people who chose to remain in the Southwest at the conclusion of the Mexican War in 1848.
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 second reason to oppose it.
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.
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.
The multicultural dispensation that resulted depends on indoctrinating members of four of the groups into believing that they are historical victims of the fifth. This is on its face a nonsensical proposition for those who willingly came here, and for their descendants, and has led to misallocations of priorities and funds.
Many non-Latino whites are disadvantaged socially, as this year’s runaway bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance makes abundantly clear. As a very good review in last week’s New Yorker explained, poor whites also face economic and cultural barriers to upward mobility.
At the same time, many members of the designated minorities also are very socially advantaged and do not need set-asides to get a government contract or be accepted into Harvard University.
Which is the third important reason the Smithsonian should not open a Latino national museum: Such an institution could only perpetuate the notion of victimhood.
This is a corrosive idea because it tells individuals, especially the young, that they lack agency, that their problems were created by others. We don’t have to imagine what politicians would do with this — we see it every day.
There are small museums here and there for German Americans, Italian Americans and Jewish Americans, which is fine. There could be a repository for the definitive story of Cuban Americans, most of whom are here as a result of the traumatic dislocation caused by the Cuban Revolution; for Mexican Americans, whose incredible cultural imprint in the Southwest is at least as important as that of Vance’s Scots-Irish in Appalachia; for Puerto Ricans, etc.
But, please, no Smithsonian museum for an ethnicity created by 1970s federal bureaucrats. Defenders of immigration make the case that today’s immigrants will assimilate as members of previous surges did — which is what undoubtedly will happen, but only if they are treated as those earlier arrivals were.
That is, as immigrants on their way to being Americans, not as members of a permanent national minority.