Celebrating the Contributions of Latinos to American Society
with Jorge Zamanillo of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino
In 2020, Congress enacted legislation to establish the National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, D.C. The museum will showcase Latino contributions to the art, history, and culture of the U.S. since its early history.
Jorge Zamanillo, Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino, joins host Tetiana Anderson to highlight Latino trailblazers, and honor Latino contributions to American history.
September 01, 2023
Anderson: For generations, American Latinos have proudly served in all branches of the U.S. military, have been key contributors to our nation's economy and have represented one of the most diverse racial and ethnic groups in the country. The achievements of this population have influenced and helped shape American culture today. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. In December of 2020, Congress enacted legislation to establish the National Museum of the American Latino. It will be in addition to the Smithsonian's extensive group of museums that highlight the contributions of Americans from all walks of life. Joining me to talk all about it is Jorge Zamanillo. He is the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino. And, Jorge, thank you so much for being here.
Zamanillo: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So, I know that this is not a quick project. It's going to take some time to get done. But talk to us a little bit about the inspiration that you have to make this project happen.
Zamanillo: Well, this is definitely a passion project. I first visited the Smithsonian when I was 19 years old, and I fell in love with museums and learning more about exhibits and artifacts and objects. And I went back home, and I became an archeologist. And I did that for about 10 years. Then I got into the museum field and always knowing that I wanted to return to DC and to the Smithsonian because I didn't see my story being told about immigration and Latinos. So I thought this was a perfect opportunity to join the team.
Anderson: So there's no brick-and-mortar museum at this point, but there are still exhibits to see. How is that, and where can we see them?
Zamanillo: Well, we're fortunate. We have a gallery at the National Museum of American History, and it's the Molina Family Latino Gallery. It's about a 4,500 square-foot space. And we will have rotating exhibits there for the next 10 or 12 years as we develop the future museum. So right now we have an exhibit titled iPresente!, which is a one-on-one foundational exhibit on Latino history in the United States.
Anderson: And what about some of the exhibits that you will have? Like, who are some of the trailblazers in the Latino community that we should know about who may be featured in this museum once it's all finished?
Zamanillo: Well, we all learn about certain trailblazers like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta. They've done so much for labor movements. In the entertainment field, we have Celia Cruz. But what we don't know the smaller stories. Those lesser-known stories are so important to our history. I'll give you an example. From 1960 to '62, over 14,000 unaccompanied minors came to the United States from Cuba. And that wave of migration, that exodus to flee the Cuban dictatorship is such an important story in the formation of not only Florida, but the rest of the country and these minors, they became citizens of the United States. And their careers have taken them to leadership positions, political careers, engineers, doctors. So that's a lesser-known story, but those are the kinds of stories that we want to collect as we travel throughout the United States over the next decade.
Anderson: So you just mentioned some important trailblazers, some important stories. Why is it important that we as Americans know the stories of Latino Americans?
Zamanillo: Well, it's so important. We don't learn about this in our textbooks in school. And this is an opportunity for all Americans to learn that Latino history is so crucial and such an important part of the larger American history narrative.
Anderson: And why would you say it's so important to get this completed now in the next 10 or 12 years, as you mentioned? And what do you need to actually get it done?
Zamanillo: Well, this is an effort that's been in place for over 30 years just to get that legislation enacted. So it's so important now as we enter this final phase to make sure everybody supports us, because now is when we start hiring designers and architects, collecting the artifacts, the objects, raising the funds that we need to get there. And before you know it, we'll have a groundbreaking in five or six years and the museum will start coming up out of the ground and people will get even more excited to finally see Latino representation on the National Mall.
Anderson: I know people are going to want to know more about the project, how you're completing it. What's the website? Where can they look?
Zamanillo: You can visit us at latino.si.edu. You can see more educational resources on there and learn ways to support us.
Anderson: Jorge Zamanillo of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino, thank you for being here.
Zamanillo: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.