Will the long-stalled National Museum of the American Latino lose out to a proposed national museum dedicated to the entire immigrant experience?
Some say that although the two aren’t rivals, having another major museum on the Capitol agenda jeopardizes the first.
“I think it mixes the messages,” says Estuardo Rodriguez, executive director of Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino. “I think there’s going to be a challenge, as it relates to educating (Congress) and the supporters we need about the distinctions and differences between these efforts.
“They are huge and important. We don’t speak critically of (the immigrant experience museum) but we make the distinctions clear.”
Congress conceivably could approve both museums, but supporters concede that there could be some competition, especially given increasingly tight budgetary constraints.
Recently, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, author of the bill creating the Latino museum, has revved up the campaign of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino.
Becerra says such a museum is necessary “our history, for our culture, for our contributions to this country,” though he warned that if “we’re going to be housed in the dark recesses of some storage container because there’s not enough room for all that, that’s not enough.”
Current bills in Congress call for the Latino museum to be created in the Smithsonian’s unused Arts and Industries Building in Washington.
Waiting U.S. Congress approval
Previous legislation lapsed after failing to win passage in the previous congressional session.
In 2011 the National Museum of the American Latino had a presidentially appointed commission study of its feasibility completed.
Supporters of the broader immigrant experience facility, known as the National Museum of the American People are pushing for Congress to press for a feasibility study.
While Latino immigration would be part of that museum, it would take a wider look at how all ethnic or national groups came came to the U.S. beginning with the prehistoric ancestors of Native Americans traversing an Ice Age land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.
Latino museum awaiting authorization
The Latino museum is currently awaiting Congressional authorization of its next preliminary step.
“Where we’re coming from is that you can’t talk about United States history without talking about the (Latino) part in building the country,” says Rodriguez. “It’s not because we want equality, but because it’s part of American history and we want to tell the complete story.”
The Smithsonian Institution, which ultimately would become the owner of the museum, must receive federal approval to conduct a detailed study on whether and how to establish the facility.
Some Latinos fear that a stronger selling point in Congress for the National Museum of the American People is that it would be built and operated strictly with private funding.
The cost of the Latino museum is expected to reach several hundred millions of dollars. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open in 2015, cost $500 million, half of it paid by the federal government.
The immigrant experience museum has also lined up bipartisan support from a number of ethnic caucuses in Congress, including those for German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Polish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese and Native Americans.
Supporters of that museum, though, have been treading a careful path not to alienate Latinos, with Sam Eskenazi, head of Coalition for the National Museum of the American People, saying their effort “is not a reaction to or in any way related to the proposed American Latino museum.”
“There’s no reason,” says Eskenazi, “there couldn’t be two museums.”