Things That Matter

Congress Passes Legislation That Will Start Work On Latino, Women History Museums

Update December 22, 2020

Congress has finally voted to pass legislation for the National Museum of the American Latino Act in a last-ditch effort. The bill was included in the $900 billion stimulus relief package. After years, the bill, with overwhelming bipartisan support minus Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has finally passed.

Latinos and women are so much closer to having their own Smithsonian museums.

After two decades, both the House and the Senate voted to approve funds to start working towards creating new museums. The National Museum for American Latinos and the Smithsonian’s Women’s History Museum are closer to becoming a reality. The funding was included in the $900 billion stimulus relief bill.

“As a first-generation Cuban American, I know what it’s like to feel invisible in a nation where Latinos are seldom celebrated,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. told NBC News. “I am enormously proud of my role in getting this legislation over the finish line and cannot wait until the day when I can take my granddaughters to visit the National Museum of the American Latino in our nation’s capital.”

Update December 18, 2020

Supporters of the Latino Smithsonian museum are pushing back after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) single-handedly blocked the voice vote for the bipartisan bill. The Republican senator felt it would be divisive to give women and American Latinos a museum filled with their accomplishments to American society.

We are not done with fighting for Smithsonian museums for Latinos and women.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to leaders of the Senate and Congress to include the National Museum of the American Latino Act, HR 2420 in the spending bill. Congress is currently working to avoid a shutdown by passing a spending bill and advocates want the bill included.

The bill itself does not create the museum. It simply starts the process of creating the museum, which must include a feasibility study, private funding and site location studies.

“Latinos have contributed significantly to America’s success while overcoming systemic discrimination, and our stories have been largely erased from U.S. history,” Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) told NBC News. “The fact that Mike Lee, a United States senator, has no knowledge of the Latino experience further demonstrates the need for a Latino museum.”

Update December 11, 2020

Everyone expected a bill to create the National Museum of the American Latino Act and the American Women’s History Museum under the Smithsonian Institute to pass. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) had other plans for the bipartisan legislation.

Sen. Mike Lee single-handedly blocked legislation to create Smithsonian museums for Latino and women’s history.

The bill has been steadily advancing in Congress with strong bipartisan support. It was expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support but one senator dashed those dreams. Sen. Lee claimed that creating the two new museums would further divide the nation.

“The last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation within an array of separate but equal museums of hyphenated identity groups,” Sen. Lee said. “At this moment, in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart.”

Sen. Lee is already feeling pressure from the public and fellow politicians over the speech.

“I don’t know if these arguments were made against the Native Americans. I don’t know if these arguments were made against African Americans, but I don’t see them as being separate and apart,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “I see them as part of the collective history mosaic that is coming together under the Smithsonian.”

Update November 19, 2020

The Smithsonian museums on the National Mall showcase different parts of American history and culture. Latinos, however, are missing from the representation and some people are fighting to change that. A bill is officially being considered by the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Senate is finally taking up legislation for a Latino museum with the Smithsonian.

The legislation is one of the pieces of legislation that has strong bipartisan support. The bill was introduced in 2019 by Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and has been sitting still since. However, the movement to start a Latino museum was started in 2004 with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced a bill to start exploring the possibility of the museum.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee held hearings for two bills seeking two different museums. The hearings of S.959, Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Act; and S.1267, National Museum Of The American Latino Act happened Tuesday, Nov 17. Eva Longoria Bastón was among the people to speak at the hearings.

“When you don’t have representation in the official record, these contributions are effectively erased,” Longoria said on the panel in defense of both museums.

Updated August 13, 2020.

Last July the country moved closer to opening a Smithsonian museum dedicated to Latinos. On July 27, the U.S. The House of Representatives voted on the measure in a voice vote that passed.

In late July, the House of Representatives passed legislation moving us closer to a Latino Smithsonian museum.

The Smithsonian is a collection of museums in Washington on the Nationa Mall. The museums highlight U.S. history throughout the centuries through art, science, natural history, and contributions to American society. For years, history was very limited as there were no museums honoring the people of color who have contributed to American society. That all changed with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Soon, Latinos could have their own museum as well.

Speaking about the newly passed bill this week, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) described the passing as 26-years in the making. “Latino history is American history… Latinos were the only group, that their contribution to our culture and our history, wasn’t properly recognized,” Hurd said. “Bipartisan things can still happen up here in Washington, D.C.”

For years, politicians and their supporters called for a Latino history museum in Washington.

UCLA released a report that echoed the sentiment of a Smithsonian report in 1994. The two reports agree that not enough has been done to highlight and teach the history and contributions of Latinos in the U.S. Twenty-six years apart and both studies find the same lack of representation.

Latinos in power come together and really made moves on this bill.

“It’s time for Latinos to see our contributions, our culture and our history reflected in all institutions, including the Smithsonian museums,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia said on the House floor. “It’s time for our children to come to a museum and see the stories of their own heritage.”

The Latino community, like every other community, has contributed to the U.S. in all aspects of society.

The bill had 295 cosponsors and years of support. The Friends of the National Museum of the Latino American, a nonprofit, has been advocating for the museum since 2004.

“It is a wonderful feeling to know that the House of Representatives has come to realize the importance of an institution that can recognize and commemorate the over 500 years of Latino contributions to the founding, shaping, building, and the defending of this country,” Danny Vargas, chairman of the board of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, told NBC. “We’re elated.”

The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is already being welcomed with bipartisan support.

While there’s still a long road ahead before we can expect to see a museum, Hurd says the current bill has already laid out a board to tackle all the details. First goal on the agenda? Raise $700 million in donations to make the historical museum a reality.

READ: The Smithsonian Is Opening The First Permanent Latino Gallery In 2021 Highlighting Latino Contributions

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Things That Matter

Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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These Were The Moments That Defined Latin America In 2020 That Weren’t About COVID-19

Things That Matter

These Were The Moments That Defined Latin America In 2020 That Weren’t About COVID-19

PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

2020 will easily go down in manny of our memories as the year that just wouldn’t stop. As the year started, it all seemed to be sort of fine as the world came together to battle record-breaking Australian bushfires and worked to hopefully contain an outbreak of a strange new virus in China.

However, as the year comes to a close things have gone de mal a peor for the world in general, but for the Latino population in the United States and Latin America as a region in particular. Though it’s hard to realize just how much we all witnessed and experienced since so much of what happened seems like it was a lifetime ago.

Here’s a look back at some the defining moments from 2020 across Latin America.

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira kicked off the year hopeful with a history-making performance at the Super Bowl.

Yes, believe it or not, this happened in 2020. The pair put on what many have called the best half time show in Super Bowl history. They were also joined by J Balvin and Bad Bunny.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales was forced into exile, only to return to the country in November.

After being forced into exile at the end of 2019 for attempting to illegally run in upcoming presidential elections, Morales spent a year abroad – first in Mexico and then in Argentina.

Mexico’s President AMLO made his first trip abroad to visit Donald Trump at the White House.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a staunch populist and has long said his primary focus is domestic policy within Mexico. Therefore, despite two years in office, AMLO hadn’t left Mexico once. So it came as a surprise when his first trip abroad was a visit to the U.S. leader who had long disparaged Mexico, the government, and Mexicans – not to mention his trip came in the middle of a global pandemic.

Migrant caravans continued to make their way towards the U.S. despite interference from Mexico and Covid-19.

Migrants attempting to make their way to the U.S. isn’t unique to 2020. For decades, migrants have long banded together for safety in numbers along the treacherous journey to the north. However, they became larger and better organized in 2020, perhaps owing to the new dangers of Mexican interference.

Mexico’s AMLO vowed to stop migrants from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, adhering to Trump’s request. It was also noteworthy because the caravans continued despite the Covid-19 crisis, which has hit the region particularly hard.

Peru saw three presidents in the span of a few weeks after massive protests.

Peru is facing one of the greatest crises the nation has faced. Just as the country seemed to be emerging from the worst of its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has entered a severe political crisis.

The country’s elected president, Martin Vizcarra, was impeached and removed from office. His predecessor responded with a heavy hand to the protests that ensued resulting in his resignation less than 24 hours later. The government then had to find someone willing to take the job which proved to be a tough sell.

In fact, massive protests swept across Latin America.

From Mexico in the north to Cuba in the Caribbean and Chile in the south, protests were seen all across the region. Although each movement had it’s own stated goal and objectives, many were largely borne out of the same purpose: to fight back against corruption.

Brazil’s President Jaír Bolsonaro tested positive for Covid-19 but it did nothing to change his approach to the pandemic.

Jaír Bolsonaro has long been compared to Donald Trump, with many calling him the Donald Trump of South America. The two were also strongly aligned in their responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the pair largely downplaying the severity of the crisis.

Then, Bolsonaro became infected with the virus and many hoped it would change his view on the crisis. It didn’t.

A growing feminist movement developed in Mexico, demanding protection from a shocking rise in violence against women.

Mexico has long been battling endemic violence and the country has continued to see record-setting rates of homicides. But it was the growing rate of violence against women, particularly femicide, that gained national attention.

Women banded together and started large nationwide protests. Over the summer, women in the capital of Mexico City occupied government buildings and destroyed many of the city’s most popular monuments to hopefully get their message across. Although the movement has gained more recognition by Mexicans, the government has still failed to address their concerns. Let’s hope things are different in 2021.

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