Building an American Latino Museum

Last Thursday was a big day. Here at the graduate program, we welcomed interviewees from across the country as they got a first-hand look at what we do in Cooperstown. It was also a big day for the Friends of the National Latino Museum.  As of last Thursday, they had 100,000 followers on Twitter. [1] Maria Cardona, a board member for the movement, said in a press release that “It is amazing and heartening how much support this museum is getting from across the country. It shows how important it is for us to share all of the important and, many times, untold stories of the history of Latinos in building this great nation.” [2]

In 2008, the National Commission of the American Latino Museum was created by then President George W. Bush. Over the following two years, 23 members were appointed to the commission and were charged with researching the feasibility of opening a National Museum of the American Latino on the National Mall. Appointees include philanthropists, entrepreneurs, scholars, even actress Eva Longoria. [3] This video was created by the commission to help spread awareness of their mission and goals:

On May 5, 2011, the Commission presented their report to President Barack Obama. This report, available online, contains the feasibility study for a National Museum of the American Latino. Although four different locations were recommended, legislation was introduced following the report recommended either the Capitol Site, at the northeast corner of the mall, or the now vacant Arts and Industries Building. The opening of the museum at the Capitol Site would require $463 million in start-up funds, with an annual cost of approximately $50 million. That said, the Commission reported that no federal funds would be necessary for the first six years following the museum’s establishment, believing that private funding will cover all necessary expenses. [4]

Image

Following the May 5th presentation to President Obama, the non-profit organization Friends of the National Latino Museum was created. The goal of the organization is to see the creation of the museum, which they are working to achieve through local events and a strong social media strategy. However, even if the proposed museum continues to gain in popularity and eventually opens its doors, there are some difficult issues that it will have to face.

With the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian and the upcoming construction of the Museum of African American History and Culture, a precedent for similar museums has been set. While it is absolutely vital that the voices of those not represented in the rest of the national museums be heard, the idea of labeling and dividing the nation’s artifacts and artworks can be troublesome.

The reading from Joyner for this week, which gave a brief history of the cultures that make up the United States’ Latino population, highlighted one of the difficulties that the proposed museum will face. Latinos come from extremely diverse backgrounds, each with their own history and cultural identities. Although Mexican-Americans are the largest population represented within the Latino community, there are many others whose voices will need to be heard. How will the proposed museum find a balance between all of the different cultures it will be charged with representing? The museum will have the difficult task of educating its non-Latino visitors about what it means to be Latino, an identity which may mean something very different for immigrants from Cuba or El Salvador.

[1] Market Watch, “Friends of the American Latino Museum Surpases 100,000 Followers on Its @LatinoMuseum Twitter Account,” March 22, 2012. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/friends-of-the-american-latino-museum-surpasses-100000-followers-on-its-latinomuseum-twitter-account-2012-03-22 .

[2] Ibid.

[3] National Commission of the American Latino Museum, “Fact Sheet,” May 5, 2011. http://americanlatinomuseum.org/assets/nmal_factsheet.pdf.

[4]Ibid.

One thought on “Building an American Latino Museum

  1. I can not wait to see the museum it sounds exciting but I have to agree with you that it is a complicated issue to start dividing up the museums into smaller and smaller subgroups… the problem is, where is a good place to stop?

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