Latino history museum on National Mall 1 step closer to reality with House vote

D.C.’s famous Smithsonian museums may be temporarily shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the U.S. House has voted to create a new museum honoring the contributions of Latino Americans that could one day welcome streams of visitors on the National Mall.

The House voted Monday to create the National Museum of the American Latino to celebrate Latino life, art, history and culture, and to recognize the contributions of Latinos to American history.

The House bill, introduced by Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., the dean of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has drawn a slew of co-sponsors and has bipartisan support.

“Today, we reached an important milestone for the Hispanic community with passage of this legislation,” Serrano said. “After nearly 20 years of work, the National Museum of the American Latino Act was finally considered and approved with overwhelming bipartisan support.”

The proposed museum aims to be “the keystone for people in the United States and other Smithsonian Institution visitors to learn about Latino contributions to life, art, history, and culture in the United States” and to “illuminate the story of the United States for the benefit of all by featuring Latino contributions.”

The bill lays out several sites under consideration for the location of the museum. They are:

  • The Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building located on the National Mall at 900 Jefferson Drive Southwest.
  • A vacant area bounded by Independence Avenue, Jefferson Drive, Raoul Wallenberg Place, and 14th Street Southwest, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
  • An area bound by Third and First streets Northwest, and Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues Northwest, as measured from curb to curb, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol.
  • Part of the National Mall between 12th and 14th streets Southwest, and Jefferson Drive and Independence Avenue Southwest, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture.

The bill also says the Smithsonian officials can consider any other “appropriate location.”

The bill’s passage Monday is a culmination of efforts dating back more than 20 years. In 1994, in a 60-page report entitled “Willful Neglect: The Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Latinos,” a task force found that the Smithsonian displayed a pattern of excluding and ignoring the presence and contributions of Latino Americans in both its workforce and exhibition halls.

In 2011, a 23-member presidential commission administration recommended the creation of a new National Mall museum recognizing Latino history and culture.

Though the unanimous House vote is a significant step, the creation of the new museum is not yet a done deal. The Senate must also pass legislation approving the measure.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture — the newest addition to the Smithsonian’s collection of museums and art galleries — opened to great fanfare and large crowds in 2016 and broke attendance records.

CNN contributed to this report.

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