WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of bipartisan legislators reintroduced a bill Wednesday to create a national Latino museum in the nation’s capital.
The National Museum of the American Latino Act would revive the process started by previous legislation to secure a location near the Smithsonian’s other iconic museums while fundraising efforts continue. Other Smithsonian museums include the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.
Among the members of Congress who attended a press conference to press for the legislation were Sens. Bob Menéndez, D-N.J., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Reps. José Serrano, D-N.Y., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, and Will Hurd, R-Texas.
While legislation to create a national Latino museum has been introduced in the past, including a bipartisan bill two years ago, the bills have stalled in Congress.
Supporters feel confident it will be different this year.
“Democrats are in control of the House and Democrats believe in this and Democrats will pass this, I’m sure,” Serrano told NBC News. “Then we have to convince the Senate to do the same."
"It’s an uphill battle but I think in this case, it’s a little different," Serrano added. "Just like a lot of members of Congress, regardless of how they felt on a number of issues, knew there was an African American community in their district and in their state, it’s hard to find a place where Latinos are not present in this country, and I think that will play a role in getting people on board."
He said he would insist on including Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory.
Menéndez said that the current political climate makes this effort for a Latino museum on the National Mall a very prescient one.
"At a time when hateful rhetoric so often poisons our airwaves and our newsfeeds, it’s never been more important that we come together to tell the story of the American Latino in a way that it deserves to be told. Aquí estamos y no nos vamos,” (We’re here and we’re not going anywhere), he said during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol.
"This is not a partisan issue and it shouldn’t be a partisan issue," Menéndez said. "Our effort to be a national Latino museum should be controversial to no one ... at 57 million strong, our people will continue to shape America’s future just as we have shaped America’s past," he said.
Cornyn echoed that view. “Now, more than ever, it’s important to recall our shared history as Americans. Now is the time for our colleagues in the House and the Senate to help us make (this museum) it a reality," he said.
Started by then-Florida Republican Rep. leana Ros-Lehtinen and then-California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra in 2003, the Latino museum project has long been backed by prominent Latinos, including actress Eva Longoria.
A report last year by the University of California, Los Angeles largely mirrored a 1994 report by the Smithsonian Institution Task Force on Latinos that concluded that not enough is being done to recognize and include Hispanic contributions, with the Task Force report going as far as labeling it “a pattern of willful neglect” toward the Latino population in the United States.
There definitely is momentum to get the museum finally across the finish line, Danny Vargas, chairman of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, told NBC News. "You wouldn’t have the United States of America as we know it without those contributions (of Latinos).”