Salsa superstar Celia Cruz, LGBTQ icon José Sarria to be featured in Latino museum preview

Salsa superstar Celia Cruz, LGBTQ icon José Sarria to be featured in Latino museum preview

While the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino is still many years away from officially opening after being passed into law in Dec. 2020, museum-goers are set to get a preview of it beginning next month.

The “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” exhibit is set to open at the National Museum of American History on June 18, and will feature the stories of noted figures including salsa superstar Celia Cruz, labor leader César Chávez, and LGBTQ liberation fighter José Sarria.

“The Molina Family Latino Gallery is the first iteration of the National Museum of the American Latino,” National Museum of the American Latino Director Jorge Zamanillo said in a release. “It will take 10 to 12 years to open a museum building, but the gallery gives the public a preview of the museum’s potential.”

RELATED STORY: Latino museum must be built on National Mall, House and Senate lawmakers tell Smithsonian secretary

“As the Molina Family Latino Gallery’s premiere exhibition, ‘¡Presente!’ introduces visitors to key concepts, moments and biographies that illuminate U.S. Latinos’ historical and cultural legacies,” the release said. “The exhibition also tells the stories of Latinas and Latinos who have shaped the United States,” including Chávez, Cruz, and Sarria, a San Francisco drag performer who was the first openly gay person to run for office in the U.S.

LGBTQ media outlet, them, reported in 2018 that Sarria founded what was to become “the International Court System, a global queer charity organization with over 70 chapters that raises money for LGBTQ+ causes. Today, it’s one of the largest queer organizations in the world.” 

“The 4,500-square-foot gallery is designed as a space where multigenerational and cross-cultural visitors can celebrate and learn about Latino history and culture year-round,” with content available in both Spanish and English, the release said. “Audiences can learn how Latinos and Latinas have helped shape the United States and its national culture through historical artifacts, multimedia interactives, sensorial experiences, and a learning space.”

We’re opening our first gallery on June 18 with our exhibition “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” at the @amhistorymuseum. Learn more at

— National Museum of the American Latino (@USLatinoMuseum) May 13, 2022

The National Museum of the American Latino itself is not expected for perhaps a decade, as museum officials said. The bill establishing the museum was finally passed into law in 2020 after first being introduced nearly 20 years ago. When Utah Republican Mike Lee at one point singlehanded blocked the effort, advocates vowed to keep fighting. They won.

The Smithsonian said that officials are currently looking for the permanent location of the museum, which is ultimately up to a board of trustees. Advocates and lawmakers have continued to urge that the Latino museum, as well as the women’s museum, be built on the National Mall. The decision on the Latino museum’s location is expected to be announced by December. “With more than 25 million people visiting the National Mall each year, it comes as no surprise that many Smithsonian Institutions have claimed this area their home and best for the diffusion of knowledge,” senators said last year.

“The addition of the two new museums on the Mall will further the Smithsonian’s mission by showcasing and highlighting the untold and overlooked contributions to our nation of both women and Latinos,” senators continued. “It is fitting that these two museums be prominently located as that will help ensure that more visitors will be able to enjoy and learn from them.”

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