WASHINGTON – Members of Congress are in the first stages of creating a national museum honoring the American Latino community,a project that could take a decade.
Rep. Xavier Becerra,D-Calif.,introduced legislation in May 2005 that would create a commission to study the potential cost,location and impact of the museum. Thursday's hearing was the first for the bill since an earlier version died in the last session of Congress.
“This bill represents a first,small step toward exploring the feasibility of moving forward with an idea that has long fueled the beliefs and aspirations of millions of Americans,” Becerra wrote in a statement to the subcommittee on national parks hearing.
A museum highlighting Hispanic contributions to the country throughout history will “give America a better sense of what we are,” he told the committee.
The bill would allocate $3.2 million to the commission over 18 months. Twenty-three members,appointed by the president and congressional leaders,would develop museum plans during that time.
No Smithsonian Institution representative attended the hearing,but Pilar O'Leary,director of its Latino Center,said in a phone interview that the Smithsonian neither supports nor opposes the bill.
“If such a commission comes to pass and the viability of a museum is established,we would welcome that with open arms,” she said.
The timeline of creating a new museum varies,depending on how long it takes to organize a commission,gather information from constituents and find a building site,O'Leary said. But it usually takes about 10 years.
“Smithsonian is very committed to the representation of Latino culture … even outside of a physical presence,” she said.
Becerra modeled his bill after legislation that created the commission for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
President Bush signed a bill establishing the African American museum,the Smithsonian's 19th museum,in December 2003.
The Smithsonian's Board of Regents announced in January that the museum will be located across the street from the Museum of American History,near the Washington Monument.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,R-Fla.,a cosponsor of the bill,also spoke at the hearing.