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There are currently 12 museums on the National Mall and one more under construction. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open in 2015. A group of activists is now urging the Smithsonian to build another ethnic museum, this one to celebrate Latino contributions to the U.S.
The idea for a National Latino museum was borne in 1990 when a task force reported the Smithsonian was largely ignoring Latinos in its exhibits. At the time, out of the 470 “notable Americans” in the National Portrait Gallery, only 2 were Latino.
Since then, the Smithsonian designated an internal office devoted to including Latino stories within the existing framework.
But The Friends of The American Latino Museum say that’s not enough. Estuardo Rodriguez represents the group.
“The truth is there’s so much more out there that simply isn’t being told and instead of pointing fingers, we simply suggest that it’s time for a national museum on the National Mall to fill those gaps.”
Congress is currently reviewing a bill to designate a vacant Smithsonian building as the future home of the American Latino Museum.
Critics of the project say the Smithsonian should stop building specialty museums and should instead concentrate on improving the ones it already has. New museums are expensive, and some argue that ethnic museums promote cultural isolationism.
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez is a journalism professor at the University of Texas Austin. She says the American Latino Museum isn’t about segregation, it’s about education.
“As long as there’s that lack of awareness, people aren’t going to understand that we’re not all immigrants. We’ve made a lot of contributions to our country, our communities, to our states. And there’s still this sense among people that we’re outsiders; we’re not outsiders.”
Rivas-Rodriguez hopes the museum’s creation will prompt the inclusion Latino-American History in schools all over the country, which she says is sorely lacking. She wants the museum to be a national meeting place, and a symbol of the experiences of the more than 50 million Latinos living in the U.S.