Hispanic congressional leaders compel Smithsonian Latino museum to change anti-American theme
Critics of the exhibit say its theme reflected only one ideological view, focusing on European colonialism, forced migration, and U.S. interventions while omitting the history of totalitarian regimes throughout Latin America
July 28, 2023 9:03am
Updated: July 28, 2023 9:03am
Hispanic Republicans who previously voiced concerns about anti-U.S. themes dominating the opening exhibit of the upcoming Smithsonian Latino history museum now say the problem has been rectified, according to a Thursday statement.
The legislative shift came after Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders met this week with staff members from the Smithsonian Museum of Latino History and Culture following a fierce legislative battle concerning the 2024 fiscal budget.
On July 19, the House Appropriations Committee approved an interior and environment funding bill that banned the federal government from spending further taxpayer money on the National Museum of the American Latino, which would be part of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.
Several Republicans in Congress supported the vote over the contents of the museum’s first exhibition, “Presente! A Latino History of the United States,” hosted in the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History.
Critics of the exhibit claimed that the exhibit's theme reflected only one ideological view, focused on European colonialism, forced migration, and U.S. interventions in Latin America while avoiding criticism of left-learning totalitarian regimes, such as Fidel Castro in Cuba.
The exhibit raised concerns among some Hispanic congressional leaders since it was a “preview” of other themes the national museum would host.
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), and Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), co-chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Conference quickly sounded the alarm and told Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch they felt “deeply disappointed and offended” by the exhibit.
“I don’t know who did this, I don’t know if they’re Hispanic, but it’s really kind of like a racist portrayal of Hispanics. And also just trying to portray the United States as evil in every way,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
The Hispanic congressional leaders also claimed that the exhibit did not express the wide diversity of cultural experiences that Latinos from over 20 countries have gone through, many of which do not share the same political and historical viewpoints.
“This is an unfortunate roadblock: to now be talking about zeroing out funding to the museum,” said Estuardo Rodríguez, president and CEO of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, at the time.
The National Museum of the American Latino was approved by Congress in 2020 to advance “the representation, understanding, and appreciation of Latino history and culture in the United States,” according to its website.
The museum is supposed to expand scholarly research, public programs, digital content, and collections, among other things, that are dedicated to the Latino experience. Before the vote, the Latino museum was looking for a permanent location and had been lobbying in Congress for the approval of one of two sites on the National Mall.
To remedy the situation, Reps. Diaz-Balart and Gonzales met with Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and the Secretary's staff, and addressed their concerns, which led to a successful resolution.
“The Institution understood the unfortunate and even insulting portrayal the gallery had of our community,” the Caucus Co-Chairs said in a statement following the meeting. "Based on the conversation, the Smithsonian has seriously committed to rectifying its actions. Procedural changes in the review of content and leadership have been made.”
Hispanic Republicans said the legislation that created the museum in 2020 requires that the “board of trustees shall ensure that the exhibits and programs of the museum reflect the diversity of viewpoints held by Latinos on the events and issues related to Latino History in the United States.”
The Hispanic congressional members said the meeting went well and they now feel confident their message was finally heard.
Having cleared the air with Smithsonian leadership and staff, the CHC now feels reassured it can work with Rep. Mike Simpson, Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, to allow funding.
“As long-time supporters of the National Museum of the American Latino, we feel it is important to accurately chronicle the story of Latinos in America,” the representatives said. "Hispanics are not victims or traitors, instead, they are the backbone of our American society, and the Smithsonian leadership now understands that.