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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Menendez celebrates authorization of Smithsonian Latino museum

By Nikita Biryukov, December 22 2020 10:33 am

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen) is finally getting his way on the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino.

The measure, long sought by Menendez, the highest-ranking Latino member of Congress, passed as part of the omnibus bill lawmakers in Washington sent to President Donald Trump’s desk Monday night.

“We have overcome tremendous obstacles and unbelievable hurdles to get to this historic moment, but, as I’ve said before, Latinos are used to overcoming obstacles,” Menendez said. “Passage of the National Museum of the American Latino is the culmination of decades of hard work, advocacy, successes and set-backs in the movement to recognize Latino contributions to America’s history, economy and culture.”

The passage comes less than two weeks after U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked a unanimous consent agreement to authorize the building of the museum, which will fall under the purview of the Smithsonian Institution. Lee said he believed a museum explicitly dedicated to a particular demographic group would further inflame tensions in the country.

He also blocked a proposal for a Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum. The omnibus bill authorized that museum too.

“While xenophobia, bigotry and nativism remain alive in the United States, it means so much to know there will now be a world-class Smithsonian museum that will help educate all Americans about the struggles, triumphs and stories of American Latinos and Latinas whose history in this country predates the founding of our Republic,” Menendez said.

The bipartisan proposal doesn’t mean a museum dedicated to Latino history will be open tomorrow. The project will still take more than a decade to complete, but the authorization allows for the creation of the Latino museum board and grant programs to create educational programs and Latino history and culture.

It also lets the board pick a site for the museum.

In any case, it’s a victory for Menendez, who’s been pushing for the creation of such a museum since 2003.

“As a first-generation Cuban American, I know what it’s like to feel invisible in a nation where Latinos are seldom celebrated,” he said. “I am enormously proud of my role in getting this legislation over the finish line and cannot wait until the day when I can take my granddaughters to visit the National Museum of the American Latino in our nation’s capital.”

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