Congress Just Passed the National American Latino Museum — What’s Next?


By Alicia Barrón

December 30, 2020

Despite the approval, it will likely be years before two new museums welcome visitors. 

After nearly three decades of work, Latinos are celebrating Congress’ approval of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Latino.

The law, which was approved by Congress last week, opened the door for the creation of the National Museum of the American Latino. The museum will honor the centuries-long history of Latino people in the US and their contributions to life, art, history, and culture. It will be located at the Smithsonian’s signature location on the Washington National Mall.

According to the official resolution, the National Museum of the American Latino will also serve as a gateway for visitors to view other Latino exhibitions, collections, and programming at other Smithsonian Institution facilities, and museums throughout the country.

The legislation was approved by the House of Representatives back in July after decades of attempts to establish the museum. 

However, the initiative came to a standstill in early December after Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah cast the single vote that blocked  consideration for the legislation to establish the museum, saying that the US does not need “separate, but equal museums.” 

But it ultimately pushed through — alongside a Women’s History Museum — by being included in the $900 billion year-end spending package approved by Congress and signed off by President Donald Trump last week. 

The Friends of the American Latino Museum (FRIENDS) celebrated the long-awaited passage

“The passage of this bill caps off a decades-long effort to create an institution that would celebrate and commemorate the over 500 years of Latino contributions to the building, shaping and defending of America; enlighten all visitors to the fascinating complexity of Latino culture and today’s Latino community; and serve to inspire future generations,” Chairman of the FRIENDS board Danny Vargas said in an official statement.

The campaign to create an American Latino Museum first started in 1994 when a report titled “Willful Neglect” highlighted the lack of Latino representation in the Smithsonian. 

A congressional bill to study the creation of such a museum was approved in 2003 and, in 2008, a 23-member commission was created to study the viability of a dedicated museum. Their 2011 report ultimately showed that adding the new museum to the National Mall would be viable. 

The report estimated construction costs for the American Latino Museum at approximately $600 million. The Women’s Museum was estimated at $375 million.

Congress Just Passed the National American Latino Museum — What’s Next?
Courtesy of National American Latino Museum

New additions to the Smithsonian can only be created through federal legislation. Construction must be funded by a split of public and private money. 

Despite the approval, it will likely be years before either museum welcomes visitors. 

The most recent addition of the National Museum of African American History and Culture didn’t open until 2016 despite receiving approval from Congress in 2003.

The two new museums now have two years to designate a site on or near the National Mall.

The American Latino Museum website is asking visitors to submit ideas for what artifacts they would want to see in the museum, ranging from stories to people, events, or objects.


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