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Courtesy Smithsonian Institution
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution

"¡Presente!": American history as seen by Latinos

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian reflects a wide array of Latino experiences and presents them in English and Spanish

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How well do you know the history of the United States? Answering "very well" would not be correct without first studying the weight of Latino identity, immigration, the influence of its historic legacy, and the role of prominent figures of Hispanic origin in the formation of this nation. 

If your answer is "not well," we strongly encourage you to travel to Washington D.C. to visit the Smithsonian Museum's first exhibition dedicated to U.S. Latino history: "¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States." 

Opened on June 18, this bilingual English-Spanish exhibition offers an immersive experience into the history and legacy of Latinos and Latinas in the formation of the United States.

Spanning 4,500 square feet, the exhibit introduces the key concepts, moments and biographies that illuminate the historical and cultural legacy of Latinos in the U.S. — from Indigenous pacifist Toypurina to labor activist Cesar Chavez, and famed Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente. "¡Presente!" also features the story of Guatemalan activist Lisa Moreno, Colombian-American drag queen José Sarria and Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz, among others. 

The exhibition is divided into four thematic categories — "colonial legacies," "war and U.S. expansion," "immigration stories," and "transforming the nation" — featuring historical artifacts, important documents, personal stories and interpretive graphics. 

Throughout the tour, visitors will have the opportunity to hear first-person oral histories, examine objects in 3D, immerse themselves in historical biographies, and explore some of the objects on display to see how the past relates to the present. 
 
The exhibition also includes a screening of Somos, a documentary directed and written by Latino director Alberto Ferreras. Somos brings a diverse group of Latinas and Latinos together on camera to talk about identity, family histories and personal experiences.

Located inside the new Molina Family Latino Gallery at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., the bilingual exhibit is a precursor to a future National Museum of the American Latino. It is expected to take approximately 10 years to fundraise and build the new Latino Smithsonian, estimated at $700 million.

The Molina Family Latino Gallery was made possible by the support of individuals, foundations and corporations, including a $10 million gift from the family of C. David and Mary Molina. C. David Molina was a leader in public health in California and founder of Molina Healthcare Inc. 

"This is a special year for the opening of the Molina family's Latino gallery," said Eduardo Diaz, acting deputy director of the National Museum of the American Latino. "Twenty-five years ago the Smithsonian founded the Smithsonian Latino Center to increase Latino representation at the institution, and as a result has been able to pave the way for the Latino Museum. I am proud to have been able to play a role in the development of the gallery and to have been able to help accommodate the new Latino Museum."

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