House approves bill to establish Smithsonian Latino museum

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Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., the Census Caucus co-chair, right, speaks to the media about the 2020 Census and the concern for getting an accurate count in minority communities as Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, left, and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair listen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Members of the House on Monday approved legislation to establish a National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, DC, as part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The bill advanced by voice vote, a process used for speedy passage of uncontroversial measures. The legislation led by Democratic Rep. José Serrano of New York was supported by House members on both sides of the aisle and had 295 cosponsors.

“Today, we reached an important milestone for the Hispanic community with passage of this legislation. After nearly 20 years of work, the National Museum of the American Latino Act was finally considered and approved with overwhelming bipartisan support,” said Serrano, dean of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The bill’s passage is a culmination of efforts dating back more than 20 years. In 1994, in a 60-page report entitled “Willful Neglect: The Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Latinos,” a task force found that the Smithsonian displayed a pattern of excluding and ignoring the presence and contributions of Latino Americans in both its workforce and exhibition halls.

And in 2011, a 23-member presidential commission established to study the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino delivered a report that detailed the museum’s feasibility.

The effort has also been backed by a national advocacy campaign. Danny Vargas, the chairman of the Friends of the American Latino Museum strongly urged lawmakers to support the effort.

“For over 500 years, the Latino community has been instrumental in the building, shaping and defending of our great nation,” Vargas said. “The time has come to commemorate those contributions in a national museum that will illuminate the American story for the benefit of everyone and serve to inspire future generations.”

Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and John Cornyn of Texas introduced a companion bill in the Senate in May, but the chamber has not voted on the matter yet.

“To fully understand American history, we need a museum for the American Latino and Latina,” Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd said before the vote Monday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the passage of the legislation Monday.

“Today is a proud day for the Congress and the Country, as the Democratic House passes the National Museum of the American Latino Act,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This long-overdue legislation will celebrate the contributions of generations of Latinos, acknowledging this truth: that Latino history is American history.”

The Smithsonian Institution, while only two-thirds federally funded, relies upon a combination of the congressional appropriation and federal grants and contracts. The new museum would be dedicated to the documentation of Latino life, art, history, and culture in America. If it is built, the museum would become the latest addition to the Smithsonian family since 2016, when the African American museum had a star-studded grand opening that included three former presidents and Chief Justice John Roberts.

“Latinos are a crucial part of the American identity,” Washington Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said on the House floor prior to the legislation’s approval. “I look forward to visiting the National Museum of the American Latino and sharing these stories with my children. These American stories.”

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