Supporters of the National Museum of the American Latino are making another attempt to get Congress to pass a bill to establish its creation.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah blocked voice votes to create a Latino museum and a women’s history museum last week, spoiling years of effort.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter Monday to House and Senate leaders urging them to include the National Museum of the American Latino Act, HR 2420, in the $1.4 trillion spending bill that Congress is trying to agree on to prevent a government shutdown.
The act only starts the process for the museum, which must include a feasibility study, private fundraising and site location studies.
“Latinos have contributed significantly to America’s success while overcoming systemic discrimination, and our stories have been largely erased from U.S. history,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, who is completing his term as caucus chairman. “The fact that Mike Lee, a United States senator, has no knowledge of the Latino experience further demonstrates the need for a Latino museum.”
In debate last week, Lee had argued against "separate but equal" museums, adding that the museums dedicated to African Americans and Native Americans were acceptable because they had experienced systemic racism and erasure of their history, suggesting that Latinos had not.
The comments drew rebuke from Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. and others, including many on social media, who said his statement showed why a museum is needed.
"We believe that the lack of full Latino representation, over time, has created real blind spots that neglect the role Latinos have played in service and sacrifice to our nation," the caucus said in its letter. "With a 500-year history that predates the founding of the country, Latinos have been a part of the American story since the beginning, but to see the galleries and exhibits throughout the Smithsonian, one would never know that to be the case."
Supporters from both parties have backed legislation in support of the museum. The Latino Coalition, a nonprofit business group that tends to support Republican principles, chastised Lee in a statement, also calling for inclusion of the museum bill in the sweeping spending bill. The group called his blocking of the museum bill “condescending and misguided.”
The last-hour appeal comes as Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., is ending his 30-year congressional career. Serrano started work to establish the museum nearly 20 years ago and sponsored the bill the House passed in July, a version of which the Senate adopted.
It also follows this year's election, in which President Donald Trump and Republicans saw higher than expected support from Latino voters in some parts of the country. If Trump signs the spending bill, the museum act would also be approved as part of it.
Separately, the Hispanic Caucus last week chose Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., an emergency room doctor, as its new leader in the next Congress.