After decades of stops and starts, Congress has finally approved the creation of two new Smithsonian museums, one dedicated to American Latinos and the other to women’s history.
Legislation calling for the building of the National Museum of the American Latino and an American Women’s History Museum on or near the National Mall in Washington D.C. was included in the 5,500-page year-end omnibus spending bill passed last night by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The bill, which also included a $900 billion relief package for struggling Americans, will now go to President Trump, who’s expected to sign it into law.
“We have overcome tremendous obstacles and unbelievable hurdles to get to this historic moment, but, as I’ve said before, Latinos are used to overcoming obstacles,” said Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill, in a statement. “With this vote, Latinos and Latinas across our nation will finally have their stories, struggles, and impact on our country validated by the United States Congress.”
With the passage of the bills, the Smithsonian will now begin the process of identifying potential locations, hiring staff, and cultivating collections for the facilities.
The two venues will be the newest to join the Smithsonian’s growing umbrella of museums and research centers since the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016. Like that institution, the Latino and women’s history museums will be paid for with equal parts federal funding and private donations.
This is the second time this month the two museums were voted on by Congress. After easily passing the House of Representatives earlier this year (the women’s museum bill passed the house in February, the American Latino museum in July), bills for both were put to a unanimous consent vote in the Senate on December 10.
However, they were waylaid by a single politician, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who objected to the idea of “segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups.”
In response, the bills’ sponsors lobbied congressional leaders to have the pieces of legislation included in the must-pass, year-end omnibus bill—a last gasp effort to capitalize on an unprecedented amount of momentum and public support for the projects and have them greenlit before the end of this congressional session.
In a statement, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a co-sponsor of the Women’s History Museum bill, pointed out that the approval of the new institution comes in the same year the nation elected its first woman vice president—and exactly 100 years since it ratified the 19th amendment, forbidding the government from denying anyone the right to vote on the basis of sex.
“For too long, women’s stories have been left out of the telling of our nation’s history, but with this vote, we begin to rectify that,” she said in a statement. “Americans of all ages deserve to see and be inspired by the remarkable women who helped shape this nation—seeing role models doing the thing to which we aspire, can change the course of someone’s life.”