Lawmakers reignite effort to create a national museum of Latino culture and history

  • Sept. 27, 2012: Sen. Robert Menendez speaks in Sayreville, N.J.

    Sept. 27, 2012: Sen. Robert Menendez speaks in Sayreville, N.J.  (AP)

  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. (Photo: NMAAHC

    The National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. (Photo: NMAAHC

As the opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall draws closer, a renewed push is underway for the creation of a similar museum devoted to Latinos.

Legislation calling for a Smithsonian Institution museum about Hispanic history and culture has been reintroduced in the House and Senate.

Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the party’s Senate Hispanic Task Force, said he backed the measure because it makes no sense that the nation’s largest minority has no substantial presence at the Smithsonian.

“As I travel through the Smithsonian museum, I still don’t see this face of America, this part of America’s history portrayed adequately,” Menendez told Fox News Latino. “It’s the nation’s largest minority, which continues to grow exponentially. Latino history precedes the founding of the nation, and most Americans don’t know it.”

The bipartisan group that introduced the bill included Menendez, Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.

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They drew inspiration from the anticipated Smithsonian’s opening on Sept. 24 of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

“It provides inspiration, and it really does give you locomotion to try to move this forward,” Becerra told The Hill. “So many [of the African-American museum’s supporters] have come to me and said, ‘You’re next.’ It pumps you up.”

The site where the Latino museum would be located is the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, which was renovated and now functions as a space for special events.

For years, legislative efforts in Congress to approve a site for the museum have languished.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a bill setting up a commission to study the feasibility of a Latino museum. The commission took shape in 2011.

Some lawmakers questioned whether there is a need for another museum focusing on a minority group in Washington.

“It’s time for Congress to pass the bill we deserve,” said Cid Wilson, chairman of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, and a member of the commission. “We deserve our permanent place on the National Mall.”

It was estimated that supporters would have to raise at least $325 million in private donations to build the museum if it is authorized by Congress. Proponents have in past years held town meetings around the country in an attempt to build support nationwide.

Menendez said that fundraising has been difficult without any assurance that a museum actually will be built.

“The Smithsonian has been reticent to support the idea primarily because of the funding issue,” Menendez told FNL. “They’re worried about it being about it being authorized by Congress but not funded. It’s difficult to raise funds for something in the abstract.”

He added, “It makes it far more likely to get contributions by individuals and corporations if they know there will be a museum at the end of the day.”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.