His View

Building A National Latino Museum

By Jorge Zamanillo

Jorge Zamanillo is the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino. The new museum was established by Congress in December 2020. Before joining the Smithsonian, Zamanillo was the executive director and CEO of HistoryMiami Museum. He began his work at the museum in 2000 as a curator, and throughout the years, he served in several leadership positions before becoming director.

On Dec. 27, 2020, legislation passed to create two new museums at the Smithsonian: the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino. I am proud to serve as the Latino Museum’s Founding Director and to lead the efforts to develop and build it in our nation’s capital. This new museum will be dedicated to presenting a clearer picture of our diverse country and sharing the Latina/ o stories and narratives essential to understanding U.S. history and creating America’s future.

The Latina/o community and Latinidad can be challenging to explain to those outside our community. We are not a race; we are diverse, yet we share much in common. We must find those commonalities and shared experiences that unite us as a community as we develop the new museum. These shared experiences will define who we are and help us with our work to engage with Latina/o communities and advance representation in the United States.

Representation is vital to our mission. Latinas and Latinos deserve to see themselves and their stories—not only on the walls of a national museum but also at all levels in the workplace and in the media, print, television and the big screen. We must move beyond stereotypes and recognize Latinas and Latinos for their accomplishments and resilience. Our communities have been integral to building this country, shaping the national culture, and forming its history for over 500 years.

It may be a decade before we open our doors to the public; nevertheless, we will continue engaging with our communities nationwide through town hall meetings and listening circles. These community events will be held in cities and neighborhoods across the United States to gather your input and ask what you want to see in your new museum.

We will capture and preserve your stories. We will collect important objects, photos and documents that will help tell the stories throughout the galleries in the museum—galleries dedicated to history, fine art, documentary photography, foodways, and music. The museum will continue to produce temporary exhibitions in the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History to explore themes and topics we can further develop for the new museum. These stories and narratives will define why this museum matters and what it will do.

We will share those powerful accounts that capture the adversity faced over centuries by Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. and their perseverance to move forward and create a legacy. We will celebrate our accomplishments and contributions to the arts, education, science and history. The National Museum of the American Latino will create that sense of place and belonging that Latinas and Latinos have been missing in our nation’s capital.

As we plan for the museum’s new building, we can leverage our commonalities and experiences to create a shared humanity that will resonate with all Americans, not just Latinas and Latinos. This may be the biggest challenge and the most important work we do. Latina/o History is American History, and I hope you can join me when we open our doors to the public and welcome everyone to learn more about our community.