Politics

Latino museum planned in place of Smithsonian building

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Latino legislators have drafted legislation to establish a Latino museum on the site of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, which has showcased the industrial and cultural accomplishments of 19th century American adventurers and entrepreneurs.

“A Museum of the American Latino would officially acknowledge our great history in the United States, and educate visitors about how the success of this country could not have been accomplished without the achievements of Hispanic Americans,” said a March 14 statement from the office of embattled Sen. Robert Menendez, who is now facing a grand jury investigation for possible corruption.

It will also demonstrate the growing political power of Latinos, which has been slowly rising since the 1965 immigration revamp.

“We are in a new era in which Latinos are a much greater part of our national discourse … our numbers have grown as well as our significance to the story of America,” said Menendez’s statement.

The legislation does not say if the existing building would be razed for the new museum.

The building is located beside the Smithsonian Castle, and is being updated for the public next year. The other Smithsonian buildings along the mall would not be impacted.

Menendez’s bill was backed by Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Xavier Becerra, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

“This will be an enduring monument as much to the people who have found opportunity and refuge in America as it is a tribute to our exceptional country that has always welcomed people and helped them realize their dreams like no other place in human history,” said a statement from Rubio, which portrayed the project as a celebration of immigration.

The new museum, added Rubio, will be funded by the public’s donations.

Over its history, the Smithsonian building has showcased inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford, artists such as George Catlin, and leaders such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

It also showcased entrepreneurs’ accomplishments, including the steel, mining, railroad, textile, ceramics, weapons and medical industries. By 1940, due to an abundance of exhibits, the Congress authorized the creation of the National Air and Space Museum.

In recent years, the federal government has added new museums to showcase the contributions of African-Americans and American Indians.

Menendez’s pending legislation does not identify the Latino entrepreneurs, inventions and accomplishments would be showcased in the new Latino museum. However, both Reid and Becerra lauded the role of Latinos in American history.

“Since our founding, Americans of Latino descent have played an important role in our nation’s story – in every chapter and at every turn … their lives and diverse contributions to our nation’s enduring prosperity remain largely unseen and untold,” said his statement.