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Public Statements

Introduction of the Smithsonian American Latino Museum Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BECERRA. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce the Smithsonian American Latino Museum Act, a bill that supports the creation of the Smithsonian American Latino Museum and whose genesis began 20 years ago. I first introduced this bill, with my colleague Rep. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, in the 112th Congress.

While the wonderful museums and monuments on the National Mall provide a sense of America's history and treasures, many have felt that more must be done to ensure that the contributions of all Americans, including those of Latino descent, are better represented.

The 2010 Census revealed that there are over 50 million Latinos in the U.S. plus an additional 3.7 million citizens of Puerto Rico. Even with the large and growing Latino population in the our country there is still no real significant, permanent representation of Latinos in our nation's capital.

The Latino community first moved to address this issue in 1993. But, it was not until 2008 that the Commission to Establish the National Museum of the American Latino Act was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law. A panel of 23 bipartisan commissioners was appointed by President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, House leaders NANCY PELOSI and JOHN BOEHNER, and Senate leaders HARRY REID and MITCH MCCONNELL.

That Commission dedicated itself to creating a comprehensive report and a singular vision--one that would reflect the hopes, opinions, cultural values, recommendations and insights of Americans of diverse origins and geographic regions of the U.S. In 2011, that Commission presented its report, Illuminating the American Story for All, early and under budget, to the President of the United States.

Since that time, the notion of a Smithsonian American Latino Museum has continued to gain support from a diversity of people and places. Despite that long-standing support and almost 20 years later, we are still not there yet, but we are getting closer.

To move forward in our effort, the House and Senate must pass the Smithsonian American Latino Act. Our bill would do 3 things:

Designate the now-vacant Arts and Industries Building (AIB) within the Smithsonian Institution as the location of the museum, including an annex that would be constructed underground and adjacent to the AIB. The bill requires that the planning, design and construction of the museum be harmonious with open space and visual sightlines of the National Mall.

Provide the Board of Regents 18 months to conduct a study to determine the best way to plan, design, fund and construct the Museum of the American Latino, taking into account the Commission's report.

Authorize private fundraising to begin for the planning, designing and construction of the museum.

Upon the bill being passed by both chambers and signed into law by the President, the Smithsonian American Latino Museum would be on its way to becoming the 20th museum within the Smithsonian Institution, forming part of the world's largest museum and research complex.

Many may ask: at this moment in time how can we afford to create a new museum? The better question is how can we not?

These are challenging times. And in these times, the arts, culture and humanities have a distinct role to play in helping unite us during episodes of adversity and prepare us to share in the prosperity to come. Cultural and historical institutions play a critical role in investigating, educating, sharing, celebrating, preserving, and convening the American people--as we are doing today--to show that we are in this together.

Mr. Speaker, the Smithsonian Institution was created for the purpose of helping increase and diffuse knowledge. It is in that same spirit that we seek to advance the Smithsonian American Latino Museum effort. Just like the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum, and others, the future Smithsonian American Latino Museum will help display America in its full bloom.


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