A New Smithsonian Museum
Yesterday afternoon, a small group gathered in front of the Senate side of the Capitol. In front of a handful of press, this small group announced the introduction of a bipartisan bill that if voted on, would create a new Smithsonian museum to give credence to the Latino narrative as a meaningful part of American history: the National Museum of the American Latino (or, because the Smithsonian loves acronyms, NMAL). I’ve spoken on this before, a post that was more of a rant, related to the use of the Arts & Industries building as the home of NMAL. This time around, watching the press conference gave me goose bumps out of sheer happiness and excitement.
The press conference was broadcast via Facebook Live on NMAL’s page and I’m happy I caught it. It was a hot day but it didn’t stop press from coming out to report on the optimism of the group representing NMAL, which included Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.), Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Jose Serrano (D-NY). And a little star power didn’t hurt the cause either with Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin’s Diane Guerrero present to speak a few words on the importance of institutional representation to preserve Latino American history. I was elated. More than that, I was inspired. Small things surprise me sometimes and this was definitely one of them.
I have known about NMAL’s efforts to become a real brick and mortar museum for years. Dr. Gabriela Pérez-Báez, curator of linguistics at the National Museum of Natural History whom I interned for in the spring of 2016, handed me a complete book of their official commission report. I thumbed through the pages looking at the extensive research this group spent two years compiling and sat amazed at their tenacity. See, this isn’t the first time NMAL has attempted to pass a bill only to be stalled. In fact, they tried to pass a bill twice, once in 2012 and a second time in 2013. Now, four years later, supporters of NMAL are back again to try their luck a third time.
Everyone seemed pretty optimistic even after being asked to comment on their feelings about the timing, considering the current political environment. The response included mention of the bipartisan support and how mistakes are made but the point is to look forward, not back. I could sense that these politicians were being genuine (weird, right?). I get it, though. Right now, Trump is announcing changes concerning Cuba travel and business, the ICE director is trying to put fear into immigrants, and on the news and Facebook we are seeing people get harassed and assaulted just for speaking Spanish. Things aren’t exactly Latino-friendly and from my POV (as a non-politician) I can’t imagine any one in politics wanting to pay attention to this bill right now. But if not now, then when? So I admire the optimism in the face of what will be and has been for many years, an uphill battle. If this isn’t representative of the Latino community then I don’t know what is. We are defined by our hard work ethic and determination to succeed despite obstacles and I’m very proud of that.
I have no doubt in my mind that NMAL’s representatives and supporters will do everything they can to push this bill to the House for a successful third outcome. Watching this press conference as a Latina just starting her career in the museum field, is something I hope becomes a special moment I can look back on when that museum finally opens to the public (and it will open). Whether that be in five, ten, or twenty years, whether I am part of the movement (I’d certainly love to be involved) or watching as a fan and visitor, the stories this museum could tell would bring tears to my eyes as a first generation Latino American. My parents came here because they believed in the American Dream and stories like these deserve to be told.
Third time’s the charm, let’s make it happen! ✻