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Lawmakers want 'melting pot' museum in DC

/ Source: The Associated Press

Several members of Congress called Thursday for a presidential commission to study the formation of a "melting pot museum" in Washington to tell the history of immigration and migration that formed the nation.

Democratic Virginia Rep. Jim Moran introduced legislation Thursday that calls for studying the creation of a National Museum of the American People without any federal taxpayer funds. The bill had 11 other co-sponsors.

"The people of the United States do not have a comprehensive and accurate picture of all the peoples who created and continue to build the nation," the bill says.

Moran has been a critic of the trend toward building individual ethnic museums on the National Mall. Another presidential commission this year called for a Latino history museum to be added to the Smithsonian Institution.

Story: Latino museum planned for National Mall

"There's almost an infinite number of museums you could have to represent a near infinite number of peoples that have come together to form one nation," he said.

Still, calling for an immigration museum wasn't intended to impede any others, Moran said.

A New York-based coalition pushing the idea said more than 140 ethnic and minority groups support the museum's creation. They include people of Chinese, Arab, German, Jewish and Irish descent, among others.

Sam Eskenazi, the group's director, said he envisions a museum that weaves together a story beginning with the first humans in the Western Hemisphere and continuing through the development of the United States. It could include a genealogy center for visitors to trace their heritage.

"This is a dramatic story, the making of the American people," he said.

American University history professor Alan Kraut, who has written on immigration and chairs an advisory committee for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, is among more than 50 scholars supporting the idea.

"It's a dream to have some discussion of the American people in a city that is filled with monuments mostly to great white men," Kraut said.

The museum concept wouldn't necessarily replace any other museum proposed for the National Mall, Kraut said. The Smithsonian is developing an African-American history museum that is scheduled to open in 2015. Other groups have proposed museums devoted to the history of women, gays and other groups.

Any well-done museum can draw a broad audience of those interested in history, he said, but cautioned against any museum that simply celebrates different groups.