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The “Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino” Bringing Latinos Together

Director of Community Relations, Tina Trevino, May 10th attending “Dinner with Friends” in support of the National Museum of the American Latino at the New York Edition Hotel

Being Latino in America today….there are always so many questions. Are you Latino or Hispanic? Do you speak Spanish as your first language? Do you speak Spanish at all? Were you born in the U.S.? What is your Latin ethnicity? Defining what it is to be Latino can be a long and complex answer. With each of our individual ties to various Spanish speaking countries be it Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean countries, or one of the many countries of Central or South America we certainly have diverse backgrounds as Latinos. Although some of our traditions, foods, religion and language tie us together—these are some of the things that separate us as well.

With all of this diversity, you can travel throughout the United States visiting numerous museums and cultural centers that focus on a specific Latino culture. There is El Museo del Barrio in NYC, the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas just to name a few of the many wonderful places that celebrate our individual histories, our art and music. I know I’m incredibly lucky being in New York to have quite a few museums local to me that I can visit whenever I want.

And although it is easy to say the Latino “differences” amongst ourselves are huge, it is just as clear to see the things that we share as a total culture and want to commemorate and keep alive. We appreciate our brethren Latino contributions. We are a people who have strong bonds to our families, traditions, and heritage. We have made great strides in this country by continuing to build on the hard work, perseverance and determination of others. We have an incredible ability to overcome hardship and obstacles. We have interwoven our stories into the fabric of American life and want a place for young Latinos as well as the rest of the world to gain an awareness of just how much we have truly contributed as a culture. We want our youth to know there are no boundaries to what they can achieve. So it is hard to believe that as a people we actually don’t have a designated national museum to raise this awareness?

And almost embarrassingly, the thought actually never even crossed my mind, until I recently was made aware to it by the “Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino” whose mission statement is “to create a museum in our nation’s capital to educate, inspire and encourage respect and understanding of the richness and diversity of the American Latino experience within the U.S. and its territories by highlighting contributions made by Latino leaders, pioneers and communities to the American way of life. “ It would serve to tell the story of over 500 years of Hispanic contributions to the U.S. and its history from the founding and settlement of our country to the contemporary influences to the nation.

What does currently exist at the national level is the Smithsonian Latino Center which came about as a response to a 1994 report titled “Willful Neglect: The Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Latinos” which outlined a lack of Latino representation at the Smithsonian. Basically, the Smithsonian admit to a poor job of representing the contributions of the Latino community to America. In response, the Center for Latino Initiatives was created in 1997 which later changed names to the Smithsonian Latino Center. This in itself was a groundbreaking moment for Latinos—the recognition of our hard work to build this country. Now with the help of the “Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino”, the center is now pushing for a gallery in the Arts & Industries Building on the National Mall putting it in one of the most highly trafficked areas for the general public to easily access our story.

A diverse group of supporters from all walks of life meeting and sharing their stories at “Dinner with Friends”

The group hosted “Dinner with Friends” in New York City on May 10th to bring together visionary leaders and supporters sharing stories of our varied ancestry and discussing how we can each help to bring more awareness to this campaign. It was truly eye opening to me how many Latinos have helped to build this country. From the oldest occupied settlement created within the borders of the continental United States--St. Augustine, Florida by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish admiral, to the unsung military heroes that go all the way back to supporting Washington in the Revolutionary War, and fighting in the Civil War and many others receiving Congressional Medals of Honor, to astronaut—Ellen Ochoa who became the first Hispanic female astronaut in 1991, to Rita Moreno being only one of 12 people to have received all 4 entertainment awards—an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and Tony, to Latino fashion designers Oscar de la Renta, Isabel Toledo and Narcisco Rodriguez, and model Christy Turlington whom I can truly appreciate being in the fashion field myself. And this is just a tiny little list of the many Latinos from politicians, athletes, writers, actors, musicians, etc. who have paved the way for us. There is so much for all of us to know about our people and the founding of this country. I didn’t realize how little I know about our Latino history and that is incredibly sad that the contributions of our people are not hi-lighted nationally. It has really made me due some due diligence to read more about the stories of Latinos who have made a difference. In the course of that one evening, by talking to fellow Latinos from all walks of life, I knew that this would be an incredible achievement if we could create this lasting legacy for our culture.

Ivette Fernandez, on the Board for the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino catching up with guests during dinner.

As a Latino, I highly recommend that you look into some of the many historic figures past and present who have helped to advance us as a people. And spend time at your local Latino museums to really appreciate what our culture has to offer. Sometimes we take these things for granted.

Whatever your individual take is on supporting such a monumental cause you can go to to find out more about the initiative and what you can do to participate. #BuildMuseumsNotWalls

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