Smithsonian Museums Are Supposed to Tell the American Story. So Where's the One Dedicated to Latinos?Roundup
tags: Smithsonian, museums, Latino history
Julissa Arce is the author of My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive and Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream. She is also the co-founder and chair of the Ascend Educational Fund.
When I was growing up in San Antonio, Mexican culture permeated every aspect of American culture. I heard Spanish every day: at the grocery store, on the playground and, of course, at home. The staples in the school cafeteria included corn dogs, but also cheese enchiladas. Kids of every background broke piñatas at their birthday parties. But in large parts of America, Latinos were seen as foreigners and outsiders, mentioned only in the context of drugs, gangs or immigration news. Not much has changed.
In September 2019, President Trump asked during a rally in New Mexico, “Who do you like more- the country or the Hispanics?” The framing of this question ignores the fact that in the United States, Americans and Latinos are one and the same. There are 58.9 million Latinos in America, about 63% of whom are of Mexican descent. While some of us are immigrants, as of 2015, 65.6% of American Latinos were born in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. And many more Latinos have roots in this land that date back centuries.
One reason Latinos and Americans are cast as two distinct groups is America’s obsession with assimilation to white culture. Only as a white person in America is your Americanness not in question. Some people, like our President, have no problem denigrating the rest of us simply because of the color of our skin. But another reason Latinos are viewed as outsiders is our erasure from the American consciousness. When the role of Latinos in American history is overlooked and Latinos hold a disproportionately small number of prominent positions, many people just aren’t aware of our deep roots in America or our economic, cultural and military contributions. The harm of not being treated as valuable members of this country can be seen in the rise of anti-Latino hate crimes, as well as in the higher rate of depression among Latino youth than their white peers.
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