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Supporters of a Latino American Smithsonian museum are pushing House and Senate leaders to hold a vote this year

The Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building in Washington has been identified as a possible site for a National Museum of the American Latino. (Smithsonian Institution)
The Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building in Washington has been identified as a possible site for a National Museum of the American Latino. (Smithsonian Institution)

Days before the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall, supporters of a museum dedicated to Latino American history and culture are nudging House and Senate leaders to move their cause forward.

The Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino issued a report to the president and Congress five years ago. It urged the creation of a museum dedicated to Latino American history and culture. In a letter released to The Times, the commissioners are now criticizing Congress for not acting.

"The fifth anniversary of the Commission’s Report is a stark reminder of the work undone, and a commitment that today remains unfulfilled. We will continue to work with our advocacy group, the Friends of the American Latino Museum to ensure another five years does not go by without moving this vision closer to a reality," the commissioners wrote in their letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Last week, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to create a National Museum of the American Latino on the National Mall. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) sponsored the Senate version.

They've filed the bill three times before, but Becerra said he hopes that the opening of the new African American museum and the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month will spur Congress to act.

The commissioners' letter urges congressional leaders to act on the bill before the end of the year.

"Firstly, we write to express our deep disappointment that Congress has thus far failed to implement any of our recommendations and secondly, to urge you to pass the Smithsonian American Latino Museum Act ... as the first step to making our museum a reality," the letter states.

The letter is the first salvo in what is planned to be a monthlong advocacy effort by the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, a group of Latino Americans who support the museum and will help raise funds to create it if Becerra's bill is approved.

The push to build the museum has been ongoing in the decades since a 1994 report titled "Willful Neglect" from the Smithsonian's Task Force on Latino Issues said that “the Smithsonian Institution almost entirely excludes and ignores the Latino population of the United States.”

Critics question whether the Smithsonian should create museums that recognize specific aspects of American culture rather than improving existing museums, especially as space on the National Mall becomes scarce.

Supporters are proposing to put the museum inside the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, which reopened as a special events space this year after extensive renovation, and is the last major space available on the Mall.

Becerra's bill would start the planning process for the museum, but museum supporters' ultimate wish is a long way from becoming reality no matter what: The African American museum was approved in 2003 and opens on Saturday.

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