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Congress Expected to Approve New Museums Honoring Women and Latinos

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The campaign to set up a Latino museum began in 1994 after a report found that the Smithsonian “displays a pattern of willful neglect” toward the country’s Latinos, who made up 18 percent of the U.S. population in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. In response, the museum established a Smithsonian Latino Center in 1997, and in 2008 Congress authorized a commission to study the issue that ultimately recommended the creation of a 310,000-square-foot museum on the National Mall.

The women’s history museum has faced similar hurdles. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was one of three senators who introduced a bill to create it in 2003, but it was not until 2014 that a Congressional commission recommended building an American Museum of Women’s History at a prominent location in Washington.

But even after both museums are given the green light, it is still likely to be another decade before they open. Lawmakers have yet to allocate funds for both the physical buildings and the acquisition of objects for their collections. In the case of the Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, it took 13 years from the time the legislation establishing that museum was passed in 2003 for it to open.

Legislators who expressed concern in the past about proposals to create the museums said the Smithsonian should focus on improving its existing museums. The Congressional report had estimated that the Latino museum would cost $600 million, and the Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that a 350,000-square- foot women’s history museum would cost $375 million.

The 400,000-square-foot African American Museum, which cost $540 million, was funded through a 50-50 partnership, in which the government provided half the money needed for its design and construction, and the other half was raised through private donations. Both the new museums would be expected to use the same financial model.

Henry R. Muñoz III, the former chairman of the Smithsonian Latino Center who has long championed the creation of a Latino museum, said the vote represents a step forward for the nation. “For members of Congress to say we will move forward as we’re emerging out of a very contentious period when Latinos are told they don’t even belong here — “go home” — is not lost on me,” he said.

“I hope I’m around long enough to see it,” Mr. Muñoz, 61, added. “I don’t think it has to take decades.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

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