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Federal Commission Calls National Museum Of Latino History As Addition To Smithsonian Institution

BRETT ZONGKER   05/ 4/11 08:14 PM ET   AP

WASHINGTON -- A federal commission is calling for a national museum devoted to American Latino history and culture to be built next to the Capitol as part of the Smithsonian Institution, to join ethnic museums about American Indians and African American history.

A copy of the commission's report obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release Thursday said the museum would represent Latinos on the National Mall where their heritage has been absent.

"The mall, more than any other public space in our country does indeed tell the story of America, and yet that story is not complete," wrote commission chairman Henry R. Munoz III. "There must also be a living monument that recognizes that Latinos were here well before 1776 and that in this new century, the future is increasingly Latino, more than 50 million people and growing."

The commission submits its report Thursday to Congress and the White House.

It calls for the museum to be established as the Smithsonian American Latino Museum. The commission recommends Congress provide half the cost of a $600 million museum to be built near the reflecting pool on the Capitol grounds. Private donations would cover the remainder.

Original plans for Washington called for civic buildings or museums at such sites around the Capitol, the report noted.

Since 2009, the commission has studied the feasibility for such a museum, the fundraising potential and how it would affect local and regional Latino museums. It also relied on models from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and its planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in four years near the Washington Monument.

The report lays out a case for retracing 500 years of Latino history with roots in Europe, Africa and Asia and from indigenous people before English settlers founded Jamestown. It notes Spanish explorers were first to land in Florida and created outposts that eventually led to cities like San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M.

It follows a 1994 report to the Smithsonian entitled "Willful Neglect" that found U.S. Hispanics were the only major contributor to American civilization not permanently recognized at the museum complex.

Still, the bipartisan commission's proposal comes at a time of federal budget constraints and as many groups want to add museums on the National Mall, including sites devoted to the histories of women, immigration and gays.

"Some might ask in these very difficult economic times how we can afford such an endeavor," Munoz wrote. "The real question is how can we afford not to."

Former President George W. Bush signed legislation establishing the Latino museum commission in 2008, and President Barack Obama, along with congressional leaders, appointed a 23-member commission. It includes Eva Longoria from TV's "Desperate Housewives," producer Emilio Estefan and others for their expertise in museums, fundraising and Latino culture.

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Filed by Travis Korte  |