The National Museum of the American Latino (NMAL), a new Smithsonian Institution museum in advanced planning stages in Washington, DC, is at risk of becoming a casualty of partisan feuding over spending in the 2024 federal budget. On 19 July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill for interior and environment funding that specifically bans the federal government from spending taxpayer funds on the museum, The Hill reported.
Republican members of the committee reportedly targeted the museum—which, after years of grassroots campaigning, was created through an act of Congress in 2020, appointed Jorge Zamanillo as its first director last year and was closing in on selecting a site—in part due to the content of a pop-up exhibition at the Molina Family Latino Gallery inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. That space currently features the exhibition ¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States, which, according to critics, devotes too much space to discussions of European colonialism, forced displacement and US political and military interventions in Latin America. Critics contend that the museum does not do enough to denounce populist left-wing governments like Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.
“I don’t know who did this, I don’t know if they’re Hispanic, but it’s really kind of like a racist portrayal of Hispanics,” representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Republican whose constituency includes portions of Miami-Dade County—home to large communities of Cuban immigrants and Cuban Americans, many of whom fled to the US during the Cuban Revolution—told The Hill. “And also just trying to portray the United States as evil in every way.”
Another member of the House Appropriations Committee, representative Adriano Espaillat (whose district in New York City includes parts of upper Manhattan and the Bronx), introduced an amendment during the 19 July session in an attempt to restore the NMAL. That amendment was defeated.
“The Latino community is not monolithic,” Espaillat wrote on Twitter. “We are very diverse and the fact that Republicans want to drive a stake into the heart of the Smithsonian Museum honouring the Latino culture in America is unacceptable.”
Representatives for the Smithsonian and NMAL had not responded to requests for comment at press time.
The same bill in which the House Appropriations Committee banned funding for the NMAL last week provided funding for the other new Smithsonian museum in advanced stages of planning, the American Women’s History Museum. Federal funding for the Smithsonian and its museums and other institutions comes through appropriations in the US federal budget; its appropriation for 2023 totalled $1.14bn.
The push to politicise funding for the NMAL comes as Republicans increasingly seek to court Latinos, the fastest-growing ethnic group of eligible voters and, until recently, assumed to identify more often as Democrats.