Hurd on the Hill: A Missing Smithsonian: The Museum of the American Latino
To fully understand American history, we have to understand all our history, which must include the contribution of the American Latino.
The National Mall, America’s front yard, features museums about core pieces of America’s history, ranging from Natural History, Air and Space, Art, the American Indian and African American History and Culture. Half of all Americans will visit the National Mall in their lifetime, but, if they were to visit today, there would be a huge gaping hole in the portfolio of Smithsonian museums. The Museum of the American Latino is missing.
The legacy of David Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay is a part of our history that many people don’t know enough about. The Battle of Mobile Bay—a battle of the Civil War—is where the Union won a decisive victory, capturing the last Confederate controlled port along the Gulf of Mexico. David Farragut—a Latino—was America’s first Admiral and led the naval forces for the Union during the Civil War. It was at this battle Farragut became famous for his inspirational line, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Farragut is one of the great leaders to have contributed to the success of our nation. After all he did to fight and bleed for our freedom. We owe it to him to honor his name within a National Museum of the American Latino. Unfortunately, Farragut’s legacy is only one among a plethora of American Latinos whose contribution to the very fabric of our nation is not represented on the National Mall. The U.S. is stronger because of the past, present and future contributions Latinos have made across our communities, and we owe it to them and their families to honor their names and stories.
Almost 59 million Latino Americans call our nation home, and, estimates show by 2060, one out of every four people in the U.S. will be of Latino heritage. Yet, in spite of their essential relevance to our country’s intellectual, economic and cultural life, a task force commissioned in 1994 by the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution found that “U.S. Hispanics are the only major contributor to American civilization still uncelebrated by any specific, systemic, permanent effort in this country’s major cultural institution.”
Congress, in an effort to concretize the story of the American Latino into our Smithsonian Institutions, passed the National Museum of the American Latino Act with overwhelming bipartisan support just last month. My colleagues, Reps. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), and I have been working to pass this bill for years. The bill—once it passes the Senate and is signed into law by the President—calls for the creation of a board of trustees responsible for finding a location, developing a long-term plan for construction and advising the Smithsonian Board of Regents. The bill would also ensure Latino collections, art, research and publications are added to Smithsonian museums, research centers and other educational institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad.
After 26 years, because of House passage of this bill, we are one step closer to honoring the many Latino Americans who have shaped our nation’s history. We are one step closer to giving Latino Americans the appreciation they deserve. But the fight is not over. We still have more steps to go, including passage through the U.S. Senate.
My friend and fellow Texan, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), is a strong supporter of this museum. I’m confident with his support we will get this done. But we’re still going to need the help of all of you to get this across the finish line. I encourage you to call your Senators and urge them to pass this bill. Together we can make sure the Smithsonian Institution no longer has a major missing piece.
Building the National Museum of the American Latino is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It’s an American issue transcending all of us, and it will allow future generations of Americans from sea to shining sea to learn from our past, appreciate the progress made today and work together to create a stronger future.
It’s an incredible honor during my final term in office to lead the House effort to make the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino a reality.