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Last December, legislation to create a Smithsonian museum for Latinx history and culture in Washington, DC, was finally signed into law, overcoming decades of hurdles. But the National Museum of the American Latino still doesn’t have a guaranteed home on the National Mall — the grassy strip between the Lincoln Memorial and the US Capitol where many Smithsonian institutions, such as those dedicated to Native Americans and African Americans, prominently stand.
Now, advocates of the museum can sign on to a letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch urging him to enact a plan that ensures the new building gets a proper place on the Mall. Sent last week by Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino (FRIENDS), the letter was co-signed by over 100 supporters, including musician Ruben Blades and Felix Sanchez, co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. As of today, the general public can add their names.
“We cannot be down the street or around the corner,” said Lili Gil Valletta, board chair of FRIENDS. “We deserve a building that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the iconic museums we all know and love.”
“There is too much at stake for current and future generations — Latinos and Americans of all backgrounds — not to see the Latino story represented on the most influential promenade in the US,” Valletta added. According to the US Department of Commerce, the National Mall attracts upwards of 25 million visitors each year.
Two acts to create the Latinx museum as well as a Smithsonian Women’s History Museum swiftly passed the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote last summer, with more than 290 bipartisan cosponsors. In December, however, the Senate vote was stalled by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who said the institutions would “further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups.” The legislation was finally approved later that month as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief spending bill.
You can sign your name on FRIENDS’s letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch here.