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Smithsonian to Open Its First-Ever Gallery Devoted to Latinx Experiences, Receives $10M Donation

“Latino history is American history, and we have a responsibility to reflect the stories and experiences of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. today,” said the Smithsonian Latino Center’s director.

Rendering of the gallery’s entrance (Museum Environments/Branded Environments)

On Thursday, December 6, the Smithsonian announced that it will open its first-ever gallery devoted to Latinx experiences in the United States.

Opening in 2021 on the first floor of the National Museum of American History, the Molina Family Latino Gallery will include bilingual exhibits that detail the history and contributions of American Latinxs.

A first for the Smithsonian Institute’s coterie of prestigious museums, the gallery will feature 4,500 square feet for an ambitious string of rotating exhibitions that will include first-person narratives, participatory experiences, and viewer-generated content.

“The establishment of the Molina Family Latino Gallery is an important milestone for the Smithsonian and the nation,” said Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton. “For more than two decades, the Smithsonian Latino Center has shined a light on the contributions of the Latino community and helped visitors appreciate our shared history; this gallery is a brilliant culmination of those efforts.”

The gallery space is funded by a lead gift to the Smithsonian Latino Center of $10 million by five members of the Molina family, whose patriarch Dr. C. David Molina founded the healthcare company Molina Healthcare Inc. Additionally, the retail chain Target has given $2 million to fund the space, which will be designed by Museum Environments/Branded Environments.

“It is a great privilege to make this gift in memory of our father,” said Martha Molina Bernadett on behalf of her siblings, Mario, John, Janet, and Josephine. “His passion for helping others and entrepreneurial spirit helped build a legacy that we are all proud to contribute to today.” The late Dr. Molina died in 1996.

Eduardo Díaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, said in a statement that his organization was thrilled to finally have a gallery, but also recognized that its mandate continued far outside the museum’s walls. “Latino history is American history, and we have a responsibility to reflect the stories and experiences of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. today,” he continued. “We’ll continue to do that not only through this future gallery, but also through our diverse programmatic, educational and professional development programs, as well as our work to unlock and increase access to Latino content across the Institution.”

The gallery’s inaugural exhibition is tentatively titled Making Home: Latino Stories of Community and Belonging. Ranald Woodaman, the center’s exhibitions and public programs director, has remarked that the inaugural show will focus on how Latino contributions “are anchored in United States history,” reports The Washington Post. It will start with colonial North America and continue into present day.

“We want to expand people’s notions of what it means to be Latino,” he said. “It’s not this homogenous experience. It depends on where you’re from. We want to show how we came together under this big label.”

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.