National Latino Museum Faces Obstacles in D.C., Despite Eva Longoria's Advocacy

National Latino Museum Faces Obstacles in D.C., Despite Eva Longoria's Advocacy
One of many ethnic museums being proposed to Congress for space on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of the American Latino — which according to its Web site looks to "create a home for the historical artifacts, images, and personal stories documenting over 500 years of American Latino contributions to the United States" thereby "instilling a sense of pride in the Latino community today and in the future" — faces a slew of impediments. For one thing, amidst widespread anti-immigrant sentiments and budget cuts for existing institutions in the capital, the Smithsonian Institute doesn't exactly seem eager to create yet another "specialty" museum. This despite passionate advocacy for the Latino museum on the part of "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria Parker and other boldface names.

The National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors seven years ago, and, despite its own share of obstacles, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is slated for an unveiling in 2015. Yet, according to the New York Times, these museums' success stories have not comforted all opponents to the proposed Latino institution. "I don't want a situation where whites go to the original museum, African-Americans go to the African-American museum, Indians go to the Indian museum, Hispanics go to the Latino American museum," representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, told the New York Times. "That's not America."

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Despite such concerns, a federal commission that spent two years polling Latinos about what they want in a museum will present its case early next month to Congress, which then has to approve their plans. If their proposal is approved, the commission hopes to open a 310,000-square-foot space at one of four possible sites on the Mall, three of which would have to be expanded (introducing further complications as the National Coalition to Save Our Mall opposes most plans for new constructions). Meanwhile, members of Congress are adamant that,  unlike in the case of the African-American and Indian museums, federal funding for the Latino institution will not be an option.

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Yet a national Latino museum, support for which began gaining momentum in the mid-'90s — when a task force published a report that pointed out, for instance, that only two of the 470 subjects in the National Portrait Gallery were Latino — has its devoted proponents. In addition to Longoria Parker, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is an advocate, as are Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and others. And, as Kate Taylor points out in the Times, with 50 million Latinos in the U.S. — a 43 percent increase over the past ten year — Latinos represent a significant and important constituency to campaigning politicians in our nation's capital.

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But supporters of the new institution may be in for a long wait. While in 2009, the commission believed they were looking at ten years until the Latino museum's completion, that projected time line has now been extended. In the meantime, perhaps the coalition for the all-embracing National Museum of the American People will achieve its goal of carving out a space for itself on the National Mall and can get a head start heralding those triumphs that the national Latino museum seeks to promote, including, as it says on its Web site, the fact that, "Latinos present in America for more than 200 years before Declaration of Independence" or that "the Mayans, the ancestors to today's Central Americans, invented the concept of zero, without which today's technology would not be possible, and continues with the exploration and conquering of the Americas."