Bob Menendez is celebrating a big win for Latino history in the United States.
Congress has passed a massive legislation package that green-lights the establishment of a long-awaited Smithsonian museum dedicated to American Latinos.
The 66-year-old Cuban American politician, currently serving as the U.S. Senator from New Jersey, was the lead sponsor of the U.S. Senate bill.
Menendez, a longtime advocate for a Latino museum said that the museum’s passage is the “culmination of decades of hard work, advocacy, successes and setbacks in the movement to recognize Latino contributions to America’s history, economy and culture.”
Though the museum could take years to conceptualize, curate and build, U.S. Congress‘ approval is a victory for the museum’s advocates whose efforts date back decades.
The American Latino museum will “illuminate the story of the United States for the benefit of all by featuring Latino contributions,” decades after the Smithsonian issued a report finding that it displayed a pattern of “willful neglect,” excluding and ignoring the presence and contributions of Latino Americans in both its workforce and exhibition halls.
“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,” Menendez said in a statement.
Menendez said he “cannot wait until the day when I can take my granddaughters to visit the National Museum of the American Latino in our nation’s capital.”
Half of the museum’s funding will be provided by federal funds and the other half from private donations. The museum has two years to designate a site.
In 2011, a 23-member presidential commission estimated that a “Smithsonian American Latino Museum” would cost $600 million divided between private donations and congressional appropriations.
The Democratic-led US House had approved the bill to establish a Latino museum in July by voice vote.
In the US Senate, however, passage of the bill by unanimous consent was blocked by Utah Senator Mike Lee, who argued that the country doesn’t need “separate but equal museums.”
The Smithsonian Institution “should not have an exclusive museum of American Latino history or a museum of women’s history or museum of American men’s history or Mormon history or Asian American history or Catholic history. American history is an inclusive story that should unite us,” Lee said in remarks made earlier this month.