10/24/2011 12:53 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

Museum to Capture Latino Experience in U.S.

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By Mary Moreno

Latinos' contributions to the development, welfare and culture of this country have been largely overlooked, and are not properly reflected in our nation's museums. But that could soon change with the creation of a museum dedicated to the diverse contributions of Latinos in America.

"A lot of folks don't realize the incredible stories of how the Hispanic influence is in everything that we experience in the United States today," said Estuardo Rodriguez, director of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, the nonprofit organization leading the effort. "And the Smithsonian, as wonderful as it is, tells an incomplete story."

The National Museum of the American Latino, as it currently referred to, is a long way from breaking ground, but already it's been a hard fought battle. The idea was officially introduced through bi-partisan legislation in 2003. The commission to investigate the viability of the museum was approved by Congress in 2008, and the report affirming the need and feasibility of the museum was delivered to the president and Congress on May 5, 2011.

While the American Latino museum is not yet an official museum, it already has the support of more than 61,000 Facebook fans (more than any individual Smithsonian museum) and more than 70,000 Twitter followers, numbers that offer a glimpse into the community's demand for this museum. But even with the grassroots momentum and a host of celebrities, museum experts, and business, congressional and community leaders supporting the effort, ground won't be broken for at least 8 to 10 years under the most optimistic of timelines.

There are three considerable barriers to making the Latino museum a reality: funding, location and Congressional approval. The Commission projected that at a minimum about $400 million will be needed to construct the museum. The commission also recommended a spot on the National Mall, alongside the other Smithsonian Museums, but that could prove difficult given that there are a finite number of spots.

Then there's Congress. According to Rodriguez, Congress has to authorize the museum becoming a part of the Smithsonian, designate the site, and appropriate funds. In an environment dominated by gridlock and budget cuts, it might be the highest hurdle.

"It's going to take a long time to raise that money," Rodriguez said. "It's going to take a long time to get all the votes we need (in Congress)... Everyone who cares about this museum, that wants this museum, needs to start talking about it today."

But the need for a museum that captures the story of the country's fastest growing ethnic group is undeniable and worth the effort considering what's missing in museums and history books, Rodriguez said, including stories of Mexican-Americans who fought in the Civil War, of Puerto Ricans who had their own military units in World War II, and more recent stories of heroism that somehow escaped attention.

"With the Latino community growing to the size it is today and what it will be tomorrow, there is a need to make sure there is an understanding of how we are woven into the American fabric, how we relate," Rodriguez said. "More than ever, I think we need to have this story of Latinos in Washington, in a museum to convey that sense of pride and understanding."

Mary Moreno is the communications director at Voto Latino. Before joining VL, she worked as a crime reporter for five newspapers and as a press secretary for two DC nonprofits. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she's a proud Texan who currently lives in DC. For other posts by Mary Moreno, click here.