Cultural institutions, like museums, are essential to the representation of identity and community. Museums present history and culture in a way that is largely accessible to a general audience. They serve as cultural, historical, class, and racial ambassadors, offering audiences the ability to reflect on past injustices and discover unknown achievements of those individuals discounted from history books.
So writes California Western Professor Emily Behzadi in a recent commentary published in the San Diego Union-Tribune entitled, “It’s time for Latinx residents to have a national museum. Here’s why.”
In her commentary, Professor Behzadi discusses why now more than ever there is need for a national Latinx museum. Like Black and Native Americans, who have dedicated Smithsonian museums, the storied history of Latinx residents in the United States has been categorically excluded from American educational curriculums, she writes. A museum dedicated to Latinx history would provide all Americans with a long-overdue education on the complex history of the Latinx community in the United States. This history dates back before our conception.
For over two decades, Latinos in Congress have struggled to dismantle these hierarchical structures by attempting to create a National Museum of the American Latino in Washington. On Dec. 11, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, attempted to block this bipartisan congressional effort, claiming that Latinx residents have not been “uniquely, deliberately and systemically excluded,” and therefore, a museum dedicated to their history would be inappropriate.
In his argument, Sen. Lee contends that “the last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups.”
However, writes Professor Behzadi, Sen. Lee’s “separate-but-equal” argument effectively mischaracterizes the importance of representation. He perpetuates this false narrative that celebrating the diversity of one culture inhibits the appreciation of another. This reductive argument removes from the relevant calculus what is the very impetus of contemporary American identity and culture—diversity and cultural heterogeneity.
Latinx community contributions to the culture and history of the United States are unequivocal. As such, their history and culture fundamentally deserve to be recognized in the United States’ highest cultural institution, writes Professor Behzadi.
The recent passing of the $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill provides $35 million to start the process of creating a national museum dedicated to over 500 years of Latinx history in the United States.
While a national cultural institution devoted to the exhibition of the indelible influence of Latinx communities on American history and culture is not an elixir to cure systematic underrepresentation, concludes Professor Behzadi, it is surely a step in the right direction.
Read Professor Behzadi’s complete San Diego Union-Tribune commentary here.
Read a Spanish translation of Professor Behzadi’s commentary here.