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House Votes to Approve the Creation of a National Latino Museum

July 27, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The House on Monday voted to approve legislation that would create a national Latino museum on the National Mall.

The initiative, which had widespread bipartisan support, passed unanimously Monday morning by a voice vote.

If the measure passes the Senate and is signed into law, the Smithsonian Institution would conduct an 18-month feasibility study and look for a suitable site for the museum on the mall.

The federal government would then likely foot half the bill for the museum while private donors would pay for the rest.

Majority leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., one of the bill’s nearly 300 co-sponsors, placed the bill on today’s House floor schedule.

In his remarks, he noted that “Latinos have been contributing to and making American history for the past 500 years.

“It is important we recognize the diversity of our country and celebrate Latino art, culture, history, and contributions to our national life with a museum within the Smithsonian Institution on the National Mall,” Hoyer said.

He also said creation of a Latino museum is more important than ever because of the current fraught political debate over immigration.

Where some in the Trump Administration endeavor to “denigrate Latinos,” Hoyer said, “House Democrats welcome and appreciate Latinos’ role in building a stronger, more prosperous, and more diverse America.”

The museum, he said, “will stand as a testimony to the important role of Latinos in the history of building America and shaping its future.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the museum would acknowledge a simple truth: that Latino history is American history.

“And as it celebrates the past, this legislation will inspire the future, ensuring that the tens of millions of visitors to our nation’s capital each year can learn the full story of America,” she said.

Legislation to create a national Latino museum has been introduced in the past, including a bipartisan bill three years ago, but it has stalled in Congress.

Reps. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., and Will Hurd, R-Texas, were the lead sponsors of the bill.

Serrano, who is not running for re-election this year due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, said he is “incredibly proud” that in his last term in office he was able to lead the effort in the House to make the museum a reality.

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

Both he and Hurd also paid tribute to all those who have championed the creation of the museum over the past 20 years.

“The fact that there have been folks for well over a quarter century fighting and toiling to make this a reality is an example for all of us,” Hurd said.

Ahead of the vote, Danny Vargas, chairman of the board of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, said “For over 500 years, the Latino community has been instrumental in the building, shaping and defending of our great nation.”

“The time has come to commemorate those contributions in a national museum that will illuminate the American story for the benefit of everyone and serve to inspire future generations,” Vargas said.

Estaurdo Rodriguez, president and CEO of the organization agreed, adding, “This legislation takes an important step towards righting the ongoing disparities in our nation’s museums that remain today.”

“The widespread support demonstrates just how important this museum is in filling the gaps in our history,” he continued. “We thank our allies and partners in the House, Reps. Serrano, Hurd, and Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., for their leadership in championing this legislation, and bringing us to historic milestones in our mission to see the contributions from generations of American Latinos recognized in the Smithsonian Institution.”

The non-profit organization has been advocating for the creation of a Smithsonian museum about Latino history since 2004.

The idea of a national museum dedicated to telling the history, story and contributions of the nation’s diverse and growing Latino community has been in the works for decades.

The legislative process was started by then-Florida Republican Rep. leana Ros-Lehtinen and then-California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra in 2003.

Vargas said he was optimistic about its prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate. “This has wide bipartisan support. We have 30 co-sponsors in the Senate right now. We’re going to be focused on leveraging the momentum from the House vote,” he said.

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