Originally written February 25, 2016. Updated April 20, 2017.
Today I signed a petition on change.org‘s website to bring attention to a bill that if passed, would add The National Museum of the American Latino (NMAL) on the mall as part of the Smithsonian Institution. This is absolutely wonderful and I am a big supporter of these efforts that have been carefully planned for many years now. I first found out about NMAL from a curator at my former internship at the National Museum of Natural History. She showed me the details of their commission that was created in 2011 showing not only the need for such a museum but the exhaustive plans already set in place and ready to go. Years of research and planning resulted in this 136 page report and in my hands 5 years later, discovering it for the first time.
First, I’m glad that we will settle for an already existing building that was never constructed for the representation of Latinos in any way (sarcasm). Maybe I am being picky, but Latinos have played a major role in the shaping of this country (since before this country was even “The United States of America”) and continue to represent the backbone of the large work force in the U.S. Additionally, the building itself, from the structure to the interior, does not represent Latinos and our diverse culture. Simply, it was not constructed to represent Latinos. It was meant to house the collection of the US National Museum (the collection has now been divided between what is now the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History).
I understand the strain and limits of fundraising and that compromising on housing might be necessary but after the excitement over the National Museum of African American History and Culture prior to its completion and then being among the crowds of joyous and tearful people witnessing the official opening, I guess I got emotional, too. NMAAHC was about 100 years in the making and what a beautiful day it was to see people from all over the country gather together to celebrate this momentous occasion outside of the striking David Adjaye-designed architecture. I suppose I envisioned something similar for those of who grew up with deep Latino roots and culture in an American landscape. I wanted something that represents us all both within the collection and throughout the architecture. Getting someone’s hand me downs seems like a disservice to the Latino people, especially those who can trace their family back to the years when parts of this country was still Mexican land.
Updated: Two months later, I am re-reading my never published rant and you know, I still feel the same only slightly less incensed. Given everything that is going on in this country, I am more than willing to accept the historically designated Art and Industries Building as the home of NMAL. It would still be wonderful to see the beautiful architectural concept of a Latino designer come to life representing the importance of our presence in this beautiful country, but perhaps we should go one step at a time. Museums move, expand and change over time after all. Regardless of where NAML resides, I trust in the purveyors of this project to do what they must to see this through successfully and most importantly, doing so without sacrificing the quality of what this museum could mean for Latinos in the U.S.