After years of commissions, reports and hearings, two proposed museums dedicated to American Latino and women’s history moved a step closer to reality Thursday, when a key Senate committee voted unanimously to approve them.
“This is a big day,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Rules Committee and a co-sponsor of the bills that authorize the Smithsonian Institution to create the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum. “These museums are critical to expanding our understanding of Latino and women’s history,” she said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose advocacy for a Latino museum dates to 2003, when he was a House member, said the committee’s unanimous support of the previously passed House bill puts a Latino museum within reach.
“This is an extraordinary day in the long march toward the realization of the American Latino museum as part of our national fabric, as part of the long history of this country, a history that preceded this country,” Menendez said Thursday.
With dozens of bipartisan co-sponsors, the bills could be taken up soon by the full Senate. The House version of the bill establishing the women’s history museum was approved in February; the American Latino Museum Act was passed in July.
“I will be looking at every possible way to make that happen,” Menendez said.
[Buoyed by opening of African American Museum, backers try again for an America Latino museum]
The proposed museums would be the first new Smithsonians since the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016. Like that museum, the new museums would be financed with 50 percent federal funding and 50 percent private donations. The bills charge the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents with identifying the sites for the museums within two years.
Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III offered his support for the museums.
“We are watching this important step in the process closely and will follow the guidance of Congress,” Bunch said in a statement Thursday that echoed his comments at the committee’s Nov. 17 hearing on the proposed museums. “Creating new museums is challenging, but, with appropriate funding, the Smithsonian has the skill and expertise to do it right. We can, and have, created museums that meet the needs of the nation and showcase the U.S. to the world.”
If approved, the legislation would allow the museums to collect artifacts related to their missions, create exhibitions and programs, including educational efforts, and collaborate with other Smithsonian facilities. Both bills also include language “ensuring diversity of political viewpoints.”
[Congressional panel calls for Smithsonian museum of women’s history]
Advocates have been pushing for an American Latino museum since 1994, when the Smithsonian released a report, “Willful Neglect,” outlining its failures to promote the history and culture of Hispanic Americans. The report, which called for a stand-alone museum, led to the creation of the Smithsonian Latino Center in 1997.