Advocates and bipartisan lawmakers in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have long urged that the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino (along with the American Women’s History Museum) be built on or near the National Mall. While lawmakers noted this importance in their historic legislation creating these museums, it’s still up to a board of trustees.
Museum advocates received great news this week, when the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents announced it had narrowed down its list of possible locations to two sites. Both are on the National Mall and were recommended by Latino and women’s museum boards.
The Smithsonian said Thursday that the Board of Regents had “narrowed its focus to two potential sites for the National Museum of the American Latino and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum.” The South Monument site is undeveloped land across the National Mall from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the release said. The Tidal Basin site is also on undeveloped land and has views of the Jefferson and Washington Monuments.
“They are considered the two optimal sites with the greatest potential based on site-selection evaluative criteria combined with stakeholder input,” the release said.
In their statement, California Rep. Tony Cárdenas and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney expressed excitement over regents echoing stakeholders and lawmakers’ requests. “Both sites were recommended by the National Museum of the American Latino Board of Trustees and the American Women’s History Museum Advisory Council,” the joint statement said. President Biden also called for both museums to build on the National Mall.
“The prominence of either of these locations will mean that millions visiting our nation’s capital will be able to experience—whether through exhibits, educational programming or cultural celebration—how our stories are fundamental to the complete history of America,” Cárdenas said. “It will mean that our presence will be deeply embedded into our nation’s most significant symbol of democracy: the National Mall. I cannot wait to continue our work to design and construct a museum by us, for us and in our image.”
“I am thrilled that the Smithsonian Board of Regents has expressed its support for the selection of two prominent sites for the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino,” Maloney said. “The new museums will be vital additions to the Smithsonian that will allow us to tell a more complete story that recognizes the remarkable contributions of women and Latinos who have helped shape our nation.”
In its release, the Smithsonian said ”[l]egislative action is necessary before the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents can make its final designations.” Final decisions must be made by the end of this year.
Efforts to establish a Latino museum have been years in the making, with the first bill introduced nearly two decades ago. New York Rep. José Serrano introduced the most recent iteration that was finally passed into law in late 2020, despite GOP obstructionism. Serrano retired from the House last year due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
The public got a sneak preview of the Latino museum this past summer. The exhibit “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” opened at the National Museum of American History this past summer, featuring the stories of noted figures including salsa superstar Celia Cruz, labor leader César Chávez, and LGBTQ liberation fighter José Sarria.
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