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The National Mall, where the museums are expected to be built.
The National Mall, where the museums are expected to be built.

Congress Approves New Smithsonian Museums Celebrating Latinos, Women’s History

As part of the $2.3 trillion year-end spending bill authorized by Congress yesterday, both houses voted to approve the establishment in Washington, DC, of a national women’s history museum and the National Museum of the American Latino, both of which will operate under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution.

The legislation, which was decades in the making, hit an unexpected snag on December 10, when Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) stood against it during a unanimous-voice vote on the matter. Lee called the museums “divisive” and argued that the history of women and Latinos should be honored within the confines of extant Smithsonian museums.

Shortly thereafter, both houses worked together to have the bills, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, folded into the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill approved yesterday.

“With this vote, Latinos and Latinas across our nation will finally have their stories, struggles and impact on our country validated by the United States Congress,” said Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a cosponsor with John Cornyn (R-TX) of the National Museum of the American Latino Act, in a statement. “As a first-generation Cuban American, I know what it’s like to feel invisible in a nation where Latinos are seldom celebrated.”

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), a sponsor of the effort to establish a women’s history museum, was similarly jubilant. “For too long, women’s stories have been left out of the telling of our nation’s history, but with this vote, we begin to rectify that,” she said in a statement, noting that it was “fitting” that the bill passed on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the same year the US voters elected the nation’s first woman vice president.

The museums are expected to be built on or adjacent to the National Mall, though some argue that the area is already crowded with structures. Both the National Museum of the American Latino, which was first proposed in 1994, and the national women’s history museum, which was suggested in 2003, are likely to be a decade in the making, as Congress must still find and set aside funds for their construction and for the building of their collections.