On Wednesday, April 27, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing a commission to study the creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture. Sponsored by Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents New York’s sixth congressional district in the borough of Queens, the legislation passed unanimously with 120 bipartisan co-sponsors. It is now headed to the Senate.
If the bill passes there, an eight-person commission will be given 18 months to complete a report on the feasibility of setting up, funding, and maintaining a museum in Washington, DC. Members of the commission would be appointed by the House speaker, Senate majority and minority leaders, and House minority leader and tasked with developing a concrete plan for establishing and operating the museum, fundraising for its capital and day-to-day costs, assessing expenses associated with acquisitions, and evaluating the impacts it would have on other regional museums. They will also be asked to recommend whether the museum should be incorporated into the Smithsonian Institution.
In a statement, Meng said she has been working to make this legislation a reality for the past seven years.
“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been pivotal in contributing to the growth and prosperity of our nation since its founding,” Meng said. “We have helped make the United States the greatest country in the world, but unfortunately many remain unaware of the crucial role we’ve played throughout our history.”
“It’s time for that to change and creating a national museum would ensure there is a physical space to commemorate and share our story with future generations,” the congresswoman added.
Nevertheless, a long road lies ahead: For the museum to come to fruition, Congress will have to vote to officially institute it. Millions of dollars will need to be raised, locations will have to be weighed against one another, artifacts collected, exhibitions designed, and staff hired. In total, all this could take a decade or even longer. The commission to study the possibility of a National African American Museum was first assembled in 1966. It wasn’t until 2003 that Congress voted to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), and 2016 that the museum opened its doors on DC’s National Mall.
If Congress approves the Asian Pacific American Museum, it will join the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum as the third national museum to be given the go-ahead this decade. Both are Smithsonians, and discussions on their locations are currently underway. Some civic advocacy groups are anxious about the prospect of adding new buildings to the Mall, which they worry will become too cluttered and congested. Meanwhile, proponents of each museum are understandably keen to see their respective institutions admitted to the Mall, long a distinguished playpen for the literal construction of national identity.
The bill comes on the cusp of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, celebrated in the US in May.
“Never before has a bill like this, that seeks to advance the history and culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through a national museum, been approved by the House, and I’m honored to champion this effort,” Meng said.
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