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WASHINGTON – The National Museum of the American Latino will take another decade to have its own building in Washington, but while it will occupy a space in the Museum of American History with the Molina Family Latino Gallery, which will open its doors to the public this Saturday with an exhibition .
The exhibit, titled “Presente! A Latino History of the United States,” covers thousands of years from the first indigenous settlers to the contributions of Latinos to society today.
It is “a labor of love,” as the deputy director of the Museum of the American Latino, Eduardo Díaz, referred to it during an act to present the exhibition.
Díaz was moved when he recalled the hard work that has gone into preparing the Molina Gallery for its opening over the last seven years.
“In 2011, the National Museum of the American Latino Commission presented a report and in the fall they began efforts to establish the Museum in Congress. Those efforts… Let’s just say they didn’t go very far for many years,” Diaz said.
Thus, while they waited for a legal resolution to confirm the start-up of the center under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution, which manages the most important museums in the capital, those responsible for the Latino Center of this same institution decided in 2015 to start up a gallery Latina inside the Museum of American History.
The exhibit, titled “Present! A Latino History of the United States,” spans thousands of years.
FROM WAREHOUSE TO SYMBOL OF LATIN LEGACY
The new space occupies a room on the first floor, to the left of the entrance to the Museum of American History, which used to be a warehouse, so the Latino Museum team had to renovate and design a space from scratch.
The exhibition follows a chronological journey that includes everything from a painting by the Puerto Rican painter José Campeche to a dress by the activist José Julio Sarria, the first openly gay candidate for public office in the US, who was also a drag queen.
Congress finally approved the legislation in December 2020, and what is now the Molina Gallery will become part of a museum of American Latino History, with its own building in or around Washington’s central park – the National Mall. sometime in the next decade.
The director of this museum will be the American with Cuban roots, Jorge Zamanillo, who during the presentation of the exhibition said that one of the tasks of the new center will be to connect Hispanic communities throughout the United States, not only in the capital.
A dedicated Salvadoran teacher teaches all about Latin music to a group of students at KIPP DC Promise Academy in the nation’s capital.
“One of the first steps for the National Museum is to communicate with all those Latino communities, it is to visit those communities in the United States to see what stories they want to see in this center,” Zamanillo said.
This effort to approach Hispanic groups will begin this year, but echoes can already be seen in the exhibition “Present!” of the Molina Gallery, which includes various interactive displays where visitors can learn about the work of real citizens of Latino origin, such as journalists or historians, to improve their communities.
All this with the aim of making sure that American Latinos can see themselves represented in the capital’s museums, which is one of the main objectives of the new center.
“I come from Puerto Rico, from a very small town, so coming to work at the Smithsonian on this project (…) means a lot, and for my family, seeing our history represented at this level… leaves me speechless” , assured the director of the volunteer program and links with the community, Natalia Febo.
Febo leads the efforts of the new museum to establish links with local organizations that serve Latino people to make the institution known, but also to develop educational programs with them.
Aware of the challenges of Latin women in the US, a group of women has come together to become a support network in which they listen to each other and find solutions to their problems. “In unity is strength” is the flag of Latinas USA.
A MEETING PLACE BETWEEN GENERATIONS
This idea has its answer in the General Motors room -one of the companies that has donated funds for the foundation of the Latino Museum-, which aspires to become a meeting place for the different generations that visit the Molina Gallery.
For example, Sundays of dominoes will be organized in the room, where the older ones can go to play while the children read books about the history of American Latinos or learn about the food and traditions of the Hispanic communities.
It will also host talks and workshops with Latino community leaders from across the country, and allow virtual tours of the gallery for schools far from Washington.
Although there is still a lot of work ahead – the Smithsonian is expected to approve the new location of the museum at the end of the year – and a lot of money to raise – some $500 million – all these initiatives show the potential of an institution that aspires to be a connection of the Latino experience in the US.