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House Approves Bill To Create Smithsonian Museum For American Latinos


OK. Here's some news. A Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino is one step closer to becoming a reality. The House approved a bill last week with bipartisan support in favor of it. And while the road to the museum opening is still long, the bill is sparking celebration and conversation within Latino communities. Here's NPR's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento.

ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO, BYLINE: Salsa singer Celia Cruz, the traditions of the Dia de los Muertos holiday, Dolores Huerta and the farmworkers' movement - the Smithsonian Museum of the American Latino can potentially explore a lot of the contributions of Latinx people in the United States. But there are still logistics to work out. The bill now goes to the Senate. Then it gets signed by the White House. Then the government needs to determine how much the museum will cost and where it will be.

ESTUARDO RODRIGUEZ: The location is going to be the biggest concern for me.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: That's Estuardo Rodriguez, who's been lobbying for the creation of this museum for the past 15 years. And he knows where in Washington he wants it to be.

RODRIGUEZ: You cannot not be on the National Mall.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: There's also the cost, half of which will likely come from the federal government. The rest will be from donors.

RODRIGUEZ: We all remember the stories of how Oprah Winfrey stepped up for the African American museum. We need to make sure that we have our donors like an Oprah Winfrey.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Rodriguez estimates that building the museum from scratch could take another 10 years, which gives lots of time to air some skepticism. Can one museum really encapsulate so many different cultures and experiences? Will it expand on what Latinidad or Latinx identity looks like for Afro-Latinos and Indigenous people?

KATELINA ECCLESTON: My immediate reaction is I'm nervous, simply because the branding of Latinidad, especially by Spanish broadcasting, doesn't reflect the fact that Afro-Latinos exist.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: That's Katelina Eccleston from Boston, who studies the history of music in Latinx culture. She says she thinks the museum is a good opportunity to finally have some tough conversations on race, gender, immigration.

ECCLESTON: I think this is a very exciting start, if I'm going to be honest. I do think that there's definitely a way for us to get it right. It just requires a level of honesty that I think some people are now becoming aware of that we didn't have before.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: And she's not the only one with some pause. Paula Santos is a museum educator in Chicago. She says she doesn't want the Smithsonian to brush over the struggles immigrants face when they come here with an overly optimistic message.

PAULA SANTOS: I would love to have a Latinx museum where you could say, there are actually structural inequities here. And it isn't about si se puede. It's about, how are we setting up our societies?

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: That's why museum champion Estuardo Rodriguez says now is the time for people to raise their voices and explore those tensions.

RODRIGUEZ: These are all historical moments that need to be laid out. It's not a story that's going to be very clean and pretty. That's not what we're trying to do.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: And it's not on the shoulders of one single Smithsonian institution to tell that story. Paula Santos says now is the time for all museums across the U.S. to reevaluate how they convey Latinx history.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.