Friends of the American Latino Museum celebrate passage as legislation advances to the White House
For Immediate Release: December 22, 2020
Washington, DC — Today, Congress approved the National Museum of the American Latino Act (H.R. 2420), which will create the long-overdue museum on the National Mall dedicated to commemorating over 500 years of American Latino contributions to the nation’s military, sciences, economic power, civil rights and the arts. The bill passed the House and the Senate this evening as part of the omnibus that now moves to the President’s desk.
The Friends of the American Latino Museum (FRIENDS), the only organization dedicated to advocating for a National Latino Museum, celebrates this victory in its quarter century-long campaign.
“We are thrilled that the Congress voted to approve the National Museum of the American Latino Act and we are so grateful for the many years of bipartisan support. We look forward to the President signing the bill into law,” said Danny Vargas, Chairman of the FRIENDS board. “The passage of this bill caps off a decades-long effort to create an institution that would celebrate and commemorate the over 500 years of Latino contributions to the building, shaping and defending of America; enlighten all visitors to the fascinating complexity of Latino culture and today’s Latino community; and serve to inspire future generations. The time has come to tell the stories that have been excluded from our history book and missing from our museums. We celebrate this historic moment with the countless individuals who have worked so hard over the years to make this happen and our innumerous supporters all over the country.”
“Twenty-six years in the making, the determination of so many in Congress, in business, the arts and across our communities, finally pays off. A museum that highlights the contributions of Latinos and Latinas to our nation at a time when the pandemic has so disproportionately impacted our community seems very fitting,” said Estuardo Rodriguez, President & CEO of FRIENDS. “We are eager to see the White House sign the bill into law and continue our work to not only help raise the millions that will be needed, but ensure that the National American Latino Museum opens its doors alongside all of the iconic museums on our National Mall for the millions of tourists that desire to understand what has truly made our nation great.”
“From the brave soldiers who fought in the Texas Revolution, to the civil rights activists like Cesar Chaves, cultural icons like Selena, and leaders of all types in our communities – generations of Latino Americans have shaped our country as it is today,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). “The National Museum of the American Latino will honor and preserve the stories of Latinos throughout our history, so generations of Americans can view a more accurate picture of the great American story.”
“We have overcome tremendous obstacles and unbelievable hurdles to get to this moment, but, as I’ve said before, Latinos are used to overcoming obstacles. Passage of the National Museum of the American Latino is the culmination of decades of hard work, advocacy, successes and set-backs in the movement to recognize Latino contributions to America’s history, economy and culture,” said Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “ With this vote, Latinos and Latinas across our nation finally have their stories, struggles, and impact on our country validated by the United States Congress. As a first-generation Cuban American, I know what it’s like to feel invisible in a nation where Latinos are seldom celebrated. I am enormously proud of my role in getting this legislation over the finish line and cannot wait until the day when I can take my granddaughters to visit the National Museum of the American Latino in our nation’s capital.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Today’s passage of the Latino Museum Act is a long-overdue victory for all Americans, one that my friend and fellow New Yorker Congressman Jose Serrano began fighting for over 20 years ago. More than just a brick and mortar building, this historic bill recognizes, honors, and brings to life centuries worth of important Latino-American history by cementing their stories in our nation’s capital. In my home state of New York, I have seen firsthand how Latinos have enriched every fabric of our community, just like they have shaped and contributed to all aspects of our great nation since its inception. I’m proud to have supported this project and the lasting legacy it will leave for generations to come.”
“To fully understand American history, we have to understand all our history. That includes the contributions of the many Latinos, past and present, who have had a tremendous impact on our nation’s history and culture,” said Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX). “After more than 20 years of work, we were able to get this bill unanimously through the House, and today we reach another milestone with its approval through this year’s funding bill. I am proud to be a leader in this effort, and I look forward to the day when the stories of my constituents are forever memorialized for millions of expected visitors from all over the world to see.”
“This is a milestone that was decades in the making. With today’s passage of the COVID relief-Omnibus bill, Congress also approved the creation of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino. I couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career in Congress. I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate and House, as well as champions like FRIENDS of the American Latino Museum for their role in reaching this important moment for Latinos in the United States,” said Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY).
“Today, in a historic moment of bipartisan cooperation, Congress voted to advance the development of a National Latino Museum,” said Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA). “Latinos have been an integral part of the success of America and, for too long, we have largely been overlooked and our contributions underappreciated. We need a Latino Museum not only for its symbolic significance but, more importantly, for its educational purpose. Now more than ever, the American people deserve to learn the history and heritage of Hispanic Americans. I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues Representatives Serrano and Hurd and Senators Menendez and Cornyn on getting this passed, and I thank everyone who supported this bill.”
“I’m overjoyed that a project that I have been working on for decades has finally come to fruition. A Latino Museum will be a source of inspiration for future generations and will serve as a wonderful teaching opportunity for international visitors to understand how we have influenced every facet of our nation’s greatness,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Congresswoman and former FRIENDS board member. “As a former Florida certified teacher, I have recognized for years that this Museum is a missing piece in comprehending that Latinos have improved the tapestry of our nation.”
“From 2009 – 2011, I, along with other talented Latino leaders from every corner and industry of our nation, served as a Commissioner to study the creation of a National American Latino Museum,” said artist and former Latino Museum Commissioner Emilio Estefan. “To see this bill pass through Congress almost a decade later is truly an emotional and inspiring moment. The National Mall and its museums tell the story of our nation, but for far too long have excluded Latinos from this narrative. Our story is a critical component of the nation’s story, and we look forward to opening those doors on our National Mall to inspire and educate the countless millions.”
“It’s been a quarter century since my predecessor Raul Yzaguirre conceived of and chaired the blue ribbon task force that documented the need for a national museum dedicated to the history of the Latino community in America,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of UnidosUS. “With the historic passage of this bill, we can now turn that vision into reality. Many thanks to the bipartisan group of sponsors who moved the bill through Congress, including Senators Menendez, Cornyn and Rubio and Rep. Serrano. At a time of profound racial reckoning in this country, it’s important for all to see that our country’s diversity is what makes us strong. It’s time to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our nation, and realize that Hispanic heritage is American heritage.”
“LULAC, the country’s matriarch Latino civil rights organization for our community, is proud to witness the birth of the National Museum of the American Latino. We thank Senators Menendez and Cornyn, along with all of our Members of Congress who stood with our community in supporting the creation of this museum,” said Sindy M. Benavides, CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “For years to come once the museum is built, millions will enter its doors and be able to see themselves as part of a rich past of proud peoples and visionary leaders who toiled their entire lives, not solely for themselves but for those who would follow. Alas, Latinos in America will see their contributions included in what has made our United States of America the beacon of hope for our increasingly diverse nation. This vote by today’s leaders will make a lasting impact on America’s future.”
“What an amazing opportunity to celebrate our 500 years of sacrifice and contributions to the making of this great country, and our suffering as well,” said actor, activist, and FRIENDS board member John Leguizamo. “We are the second-oldest ethnic group in America after Native Americans. We have fought in every war since the Revolutionary War! And our struggles must be accounted for — the 6,000 Hispanics lynched, burned alive and shot in the 1800’s. I can’t wait for my children and grandchildren to visit and feel seen and respected, and have other communities see our worth!”
“The action taken by Congress today to include the creation of a Smithsonian American Latino Museum in the larger legislative package shows the true bipartisan momentum behind this project and moves us past the divisive rhetoric that sought to stall this endeavor. As the Chairman of the congressional commission who first studied the feasibility of the Smithsonian American Latino Museum and a lifelong believer in the educational power of museums, I call on the administration to sign this bill into law as soon as possible so that we can get to work making its creation a reality,” said Henry Muñoz, former Chair of the Latino Museum Commission. “For almost 500 years, since the founding of St. Augustine, Florida, Latinos have made significant contributions to the history, heritage, art, sciences, culture, geography and military accomplishments of our great country, but unfortunately that story isn’t currently reflective in our national museums. Let’s get to work on creating that space at a moment in our country’s history when we need cultural understanding more than ever. We must fulfill the mission of the Smithsonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge amongst all people, and that can only happen when the full story is told. This museum would be more than just a monument for the Latino community. It would be a lantern on our national mall illuminating the American story for all.”
“As we get closer to making the American Latino Museum a reality, it signifies a step in the right direction to acknowledge the contribution the Latino community has made to this country’s history,” said artist and activist Cristela Alonzo. “It is important to have a place that will allow our stories to be told. Latinos have been part of American history and we will be part of its future.”
“In these days of division and polarization, a Latino Museum revealing the diversity within the Latino community, while at the same time illustrating how the group has, for the most part, found a way to harmonize its interests and establish cohesion may be a path for the broader community to replicate,” said Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, co-author of the 1994 Willful Neglect report. “It is time for the Latino community to proudly hold its contributions to this country as a beacon of what it has done, and will continue to do. It is time for the Latino community to show our influence, our ability and our aptitude.”=
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