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A California family's donation leads to the Smithsonian's first permanent Latino gallery

"Latino history is American history," said Eduardo Díaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Rotating exhibitions will feature multimedia activities, objects and first-person narratives.
Rotating exhibitions will feature multimedia activities, objects and first-person narratives.Museum Environments / Branded Environments

In a first for the country, a permanent gallery dedicated to the Latino experience will open in the Smithsonian National Museum of American history, Smithsonian officials announced Thursday.

The Molina Family Gallery will open in 2021, thanks to a $10 million gift from the California family whose name the gallery will carry.

The space will be dedicated to celebrating the experiences and history of U.S. Latinos and feature 4,500 square feet of bilingual stories for all audiences.

“We’re thrilled to finally be realizing the dream of having a Latino gallery at the Smithsonian,” said Eduardo Díaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Access to the gallery will not be limited to those who can visit the physical space. The Molina Family Gallery will also have a distance-learning component where people will be able to learn about Latino history from anywhere around the world through podcasts, mobile broadcasts and a forthcoming Smithsonian Latino Center app.

The gallery, designed by Museum Environments/Branded Environments LLC, will feature 4,500 square feet of bilingual stories.Museum Environments / Branded Environments

Although most of the exhibits are still in development, the planned inaugural exhibition, “Making Home: Latino Stories of Community and Belonging,” will examine how Latino culture has shaped the United States. The gallery will include rotating exhibitions featuring multimedia activities, first-person narratives, objects and other interactive content.

In honor of their father Dr. C. David Molina, a health-care leader in California who founded Molina Inc., a Fortune 500 company, five siblings donated $10 million dollars to the gallery. Target has also provided financial support, with a $2 million gift to the Smithsonian Latino Center.

“It is a great privilege to make this gift in memory of our father,” said Dr. Martha Molina Bernadett on behalf of her siblings, Mario, John, Janet and Josephine, in a statement issued by the Smithsonian. “His passion for helping others and entrepreneurial spirit helped build a legacy that we are all proud to contribute to today.”

Many Latino leaders and members of Congress have been pushing for years for the establishment of a Latino museum as part of the Smithsonian museums network, similar to the National Museum of the American Indian and the younger National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“I applaud the Smithsonian’s efforts to create a space to honor and display the rich contributions that Latinos and Latinas have made to this country since its very inception,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told the Washington Post.

“I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Smithsonian Institution has the capacity to fill an entire state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the American Latino in the near future. This is a great first step.”

The gallery is being designed by Museum Environments/Branded Environments LLC.

The Smithsonian Latino Center's first gallery space, the Molina Family Latino Gallery, will be dedicated to celebrating the U.S. Latino experience and open at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 2021.Museum Environments / Branded Environments

The introduction of the new gallery comes months after the release of a report titled “Invisible No More,” from UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which found that the Smithsonian failed to act on recommendations from the Institution’s 1994 report that would increase Latino representation across its institute. One of these recommendations included working with Congress to launch a new Latino museum.

While The Molina Family Gallery marks a milestone in terms of preserving U.S. Latino history and culture, Díaz acknowledged that there is still more work to be done.

“We recognize that our job continues outside of the museum’s walls," said Diaz. "Latino history is American history, and we have a responsibility to reflect the stories and experiences of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. today.”