National Latino Museum blocked by single GOP Senator, but this isn’t the end
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) objected to the creation of Latino and Womens museums, saying the groups would create division within America.
“The last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation within an array of separate but equal museums of hyphenated identity groups.”
This was Utah GOP senator Mike Lee. He was the only dissent Thursday, on a legislation that would establish national Smithsonian museums dedicated to the histories of Latino Americans and American women, on the basis that such museums would deepen divides.
“At this moment, in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart,” Lee continued.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the highest-ranking Latino in Congress and co-sponsor of The National Museum of the American Museum Act, had been working on the bill for over 16 years.
He retorted Lee’s arguments for blocking the bill, saying that he was standing “in the way of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of seeing Americans of Latino descent having their dreams fulfilled and recognized.”
.@SenMikeLee made the insulting and misguided decision to block the bipartisan National Museum of the American Latino Act. Call 202-224-5444 to ask him to lift the hold on a #LatinoMuseumNow! pic.twitter.com/sfu8vlr4s3
— Latino Museum (@latinomuseum) December 11, 2020
Because Menendez and and cosponsors were trying to pass the bill by unanimous consent, a practice used for noncontroversial measures that speeds up the normal legislative process, Lee’s decision alone was enough to block it.
Noncontroversial, because up until Thursday, the bill was making speedy progress for the first time in its history.
In July, the House passed legislation for the first time that would create a Smithsonian museum devoted to Latino Americans. The Senate Rules Committee also unanimously approved the legislation at the start of December.
The House also voted overwhelmingly in February to pass legislation to create a women’s history museum — a measure that was also shot down by Lee’s objection, as they were voted on in the same evening.
Now Lee's move has drastically reduced the likelihood that either bill will pass the Senate this session.
It was also a move filled with contradicting statements.
Lee argued Black Americans and Native Americans had had their stories “virtually erased” by the government that enslaved and eradicated them, giving them a bigger claim to dedicated museums, to which Menendez said Latinos had also been systematically excluded.
In 2011, a president-appointed study to explore the potential creation of a National Museum of the American Latino submitted a report that found exhibits and collections of Latino history in the U.S. are the most underrepresented across all of its Smithsonian museums.
There already exists the National Museum of African American History, as well as the Culture and National Museum of the American Indians.
But the National Museum of African American History and Culture itself was 100 years in the making, a testament to the many roadblocks advocates will continue to navigate. When the The National Museum of African American History and Culture was finally established by Congress in 2003, it took over a decade for it to be executed and open to the public in 2016.
“We are incredibly disappointed with Senator Mike Lee’s insultingly dismissive, condescending and misguided decision to block our bill to establish a National Museum of the American Latino to commemorate and celebrate over 500 years of American Latino history and contributions to the American story,” wrote the Friends of the Latino Museum in a Statement, later emphasizing its bipartisan support.
The organization says it will continue to fight to ensure that Latinos’ stories are told for generations within the halls of the nation’s top institutions.
“Senator Lee’s opposition to our bipartisan bill to establish a place of reflection on the history, culture, and contributions of Latinos nationwide is incredibly disheartening, but we stand ready to continue our efforts for this important missing piece of the fabric of our nation.”
The Women’s museum will also face a similar fight. Lee shot Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) attempt to pass the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act following Menendez.
“I regret that that will not occur this evening, but we will not give up the fight.” Collins said.