Sunday, May 19, 2024

New Smithsonian gallery will focus on the U.S. Latino experience

The Smithsonian announced yesterday that it will open its first gallery focused on the U.S. Latino experience, in the National Museum of American History.

Opening in 2021 on the museum’s first floor, the Molina Family Latino Gallery will feature bilingual exhibits exploring the history and contributions of American Latinos. A $10 million gift from the five children of the late California physician and entrepreneur C. David Molina is funding the 4,500-square-foot space.

The permanent gallery has been a long-term goal of the Smithsonian Latino Center, which was founded in 1997 to work with the institution’s other museums and research centers to recognize Latino contributions. With nine staff members, the center supports professional development and education programs for Latino youth, scholars and museum professionals; funds exhibitions and education programs; and creates web-based content.

At a ceremonial signing of the donor agreement yesterday, Eduardo Díaz, the center’s director, said the gallery in the American History Museum would allow the center to connect directly with visitors. “Establishing a dedicated space is no small task, and it isn’t inexpensive,” Díaz said before thanking the members of the Molina family, many of whom attended the event.

The gallery will honor the donors’ father, Díaz said, but also propel the Latino Center’s efforts to educate and inform the world about the Latino experience. Advocates supporting a stand-alone museum for American Latinos welcomed the announcement; “Although a gallery is not comparable to a museum, it represents significant progress” said Estuardo Rodriguez, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of the American Latino Museum.

There is growing support in Congress for a Latino museum in Washington; “I applaud the Smithsonian’s efforts to create a space to honor and display the rich contributions that Latinos and Latinas have made to this country since its very inception,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in an email. “I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Smithsonian Institution has the capacity to fill an entire state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the American Latino in the near future. This is a great first step.”