Arts & Entertainment

Cuban-American set to lead daunting American Latino museum project

By Ivonne Malaver

Miami, Feb 8 (EFE).- Cuban-American archaeologist Jorge Zamanillo has a mammoth challenge ahead of him after being named the founding director of the National Museum of the American Latino in Washington DC.

He explained in an interview with Efe that he and his team will be starting virtually from scratch in carrying out the project, which was finally green-lighted by Congress late last year after a nine-year wait and has the support of the Smithsonian Latino Center.

The current executive director and chief executive of HistoryMiami Museum, who was named Friday to his new role and will start on May 2, said outreach efforts with diverse Hispanic communities, fundraising and the design and construction of the building are among the enormous tasks that lie ahead of him.

He and other Hispanic leaders who have participated in the preliminary discussions favor locating this new museum in Washington DC’s National Mall, home to Smithsonian Institution museums, art galleries, cultural institutions and numerous memorials, sculptures, and statues.

“The presence on the Mall is everything. You go to Washington and see all the museums there,” the 52-year-old New York native said. “If you’re not in the Mall, a lot of people may think you’re not that important, that you’re not at the same level as the others.”

Zamanillo said a top priority will be to create a museum that showcases the struggle and resilience of the many different Hispanic communities and ensures they all feel represented by the new institution.

“It needs to have the overall history of Latinos in the United States, but what I’m after are the things we Hispanics have in common because we’re all different. We’re different countries, different ancestors, but there’s always something that connects us,” he added, pointing to music, art and food and unifying cultural factors.

Zamanillo recalled that he has been fascinated with museums since his time as a student but always felt the story of the Hispanic experience in the United States was absent from the museums he visited in Washington DC.

“You feel less important because you don’t see your history there,” he said.

In that regard, he said this summer’s inauguration of the Molina Family Latino Gallery, which will occupy a 400-meter (1,300-foot) space at the National Museum of American History, “will start introducing the topic over the 10-year period until the museum opens.”

Zamanillo said his challenge now is to pay homage to a history dating back to the indigenous people who lived in what now is the United States.

“Many don’t know that it’s not just the 500 years of history since the Europeans arrived here, but thousands of years,” he said. “Many Latinos have indigenous ties.”

An archaeologist who earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and a master’s degree in museum studies at the University of Leicester in England, Zamanillo said the goal is to inaugurate the National Museum of the American Latino in 10 to 12 years.

The omnibus legislation that established the project also includes a provision authorizing the creation of another Smithsonian institution – an American women’s history museum.

Zamanillo said the need to find room for two museums makes his task more complicated because there is not much available space in the National Mall.

Another challenge will be to raise half of the $700 million to $800 million cost of the National Museum of the American Latino through private donations, the archaeologist said.

The other half will come from federal funds. EFE


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