National Latino Museum Plan Faces Fight By KATE TAYLOR
A move to create a new Smithsonian museum is running into a crowded National Mall and lack of will to pay for it.
Seven years after opening its National Museum of the American Indian, and four years before the scheduled unveiling of its museum of African-American history, the Smithsonian Institution is being urged to create another ethnic museum on the National Mall, this one to recognize the history and contributions of Latino Americans.
A federal commission has spent two years asking Latinos what they would want in such a museum, and next month the commission will report its findings to Congress, which would have to approve a new museum.
Though the creation of such an institution has support from members of Congress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and celebrities like Eva LongoriaWhat about Evan Longoria? They should get him involved, too.
Looking up the museum's official website, I see that the other celebrity on-board is Emilio Estefan, who is not Charlie Sheen's brother Emilio Estevez, who was in Repo Man. Instead, he's singer Gloria Estefan's husband. And he's Lebanese.
And the third-ranking celebrity involved, after Longoria and Estefan, is Henry Munoz III, who doesn't appear to have his own Wikipedia page.
As I pointed out last week in my Fernandomania column for Taki's Magazine, here we are in 2011 andÂ the most famous of the 35,000,000 Mexican-Americans appears to be Eva Longoria. That's really weird when you stop to think about it. Is Desperate Housewives even on the air anymore? That's like if the guy who played Joey on Friends was the most famous Italian-American.
building it faces significant obstacles, including budget pressures,Â and a feeling among some in Washington that the Smithsonian should stop spinning off new specialty museums and concentrate on improving the ones it already has.
"I don't want a situation," said Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, "where whites go to the original museum, African-Americans go to the African-American museum, Indians go to the Indian museum, Hispanics go to the Latino American museum. That's not America."Would Hispanics go to the Latino American museum? They go to a lot of movies, but they don't go to see Latino movies much. How many Latinos are starring in Fast Five? To juice up the box office for the latest Fast and Furious movie, they didn't add a Mexican hero, they added a Samoan/black guy, The Rock. Are Hispanics really going to flood to a museum? Is anybody else?
In Washington, where politics infects all matters, there is wide acknowledgment that the 50 million Latinos who live in this country have become an increasingly important constituency. But even supporters of the museum acknowledge it faces a battle.I suspect "boredom" is what it's really facing. The media constantly tries to prod Latinos into racial anger by telling them somebody wants to have a "fight" and a "battle" with them, but, on the whole, apathy reigns on all sides, except among Hispanic ethnic lobbyists:
"The atmosphere is not friendly at all," said Estuardo V. Rodriguez Jr., a lobbyist with the Raben Group who has worked pro bono on the museum proposal, citing the economic pressures and what he described as anti-immigrant sentiment.
The idea for a Smithsonian Latino museum was born in the mid-1990s when a task force said the Smithsonian had largely ignored Latinos in its exhibitions and should create at least one museum to correct that imbalance.
The panel's report, entitled "Willful Neglect," found, for example, that only 2 of the 470 people featured in the "notable Americans" section of the National Portrait Gallery were Latino.As opposed to 2011, when we can all instantly name countless Latino "notable Americans," like Emilio Estefan and Henry Munoz III.
There are dozens of other museums across the country that focus on the heritage or culture of Latinos, whose population in the United States grew by 43 percent over the last decade, according to 2010 Census figures. But supporters of the national museum say it is imperative that there be a similar presence in the nation's capital.
While the commission is not expected to make specific proposals about content, the museum would probably try to cover a wide swath of history, from the role of the Spanish conquistadors to the work of Latinos in the labor and civil-rights movements. It would include culture, from popular music to visual arts, and would try to feature people and traditions from all Hispanic countries.My heart's racing already. Where can I buy tickets?
Lisa Navarrete, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization, said it was unfortunate that Latino children who now travel to the Mall cannot see "their community and history and legacy reflected."Think of the children!
She said that a museum that accomplishes that is particularly crucial now because discussions of immigration issues have created a "toxic" environment for Latinos. "It's even more important to show other Americans that our roots go back centuries on this continent," she said.
Though legislation to authorize a Latino museum commission, known formally as the National Museum of the American Latino Commission, was first introduced in 2003 by Representative Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, it did not pass until 2008, as part of an omnibus budget bill.A fitting year.
The economy and the balance of power in Congress have changed much since that vote, with Republicans now holding a 49-vote majority in the House of Representatives. Federal money for the museum would not appear to be an option, members of Congress say, as it was for the African-American and Indian museums. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has a $500 million price tag, half of which is being paid by the federal government. The government paid for two-thirds of the Indian museum.I'm sure that Mexican-Americans would be happy to reach into their pockets and pay for it on their own, just like all the other charitable institutions Mexican-Americans have built, such as, uh, well, let me get back to you on this one. As Gregory Rodriguez, a columnist for the L.A. Times, explained:
In Los Angeles, home to more Mexicans than any other city in the U.S., there is not one ethnic Mexican hospital, college, cemetery, or broad-based charity.When it comes to self-organizing for pro-social purposes, Mexicans are in a class by themselves.
Opposition to the Latino museum at this point is muted, and with the commission not yet having presented its report, few in Congress beyond the group of ardent supporters have focused on the issue.
Representative Jack Kingston, a Republican of Georgia, said in an interview that he supported a Latino museum as long as it was not financed with federal money, and as long as he was assured that the museum would not become "an interest group's platform to advance political agendas."I guess that means he's against it, because it will cost the taxpayers a lot of money and it will promote a leftist agenda. Those are givens.
Actually, this Latino museum just need some creative financing ingenuity. The tremendous trio of Henry Gonzales, Angelo Mozilo, and George W. Bush should be appointed to devise a mortgage for the Latino Museum. With zero down and no documents required, the museum's own mortgage, along with the subsequent default notices, could then serve as educational exhibits helping explain the Latino role in the Recent Unpleasantness in the mortgage market.