At a press conference on May 5, 1997, Secretary I. Michael Heyman announced the establishment of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives (renamed Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC) in 2006). The Center was created to coordinate Latinx research and projects at the Smithsonian and to broaden the understanding of contributions made by Latinxs to history, society, and culture through programs, exhibitions, collections, and public outreach. The Center's creation was the result of the findings of a 1993 Task Force on Latino Issues that was formed by Secretary Robert McCormick Adams and Under Secretary Constance Ernestine Berry Newman to address the inadequacy of Latinx respresentation at the Smithsonian Institution. In May 1994, the task force issued a report, "Willful Neglect: The Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Latinos," which looked into Latinx presence at the Smithsonian and made recommendations for the implementation and oversight of improvements.
The Smithsonian Latino Center's website serves as the main source of information about the programs, exhibitions, and research sponsored and coordinated by the Center. Captures of SLC's various websites going back to 2011 can be found in the Archives collections, with versions of it available online starting with the 2013 version after the Archives started using the Archive-It to capture websites. One of the Center's early innovations was to create the Latino Virtual Museum (LVM), launched in 2009 within the virtual reality platform, Second Life. The LVM featured exhibits that were scanned in as 3D replicas that people could explore. Types of exhibits included galleries of paintings, video clips that detailed Latinx history, and even a disco where users could learn to dance to meringue music. To trace the history of the development of the LVM see the blog, "Creating The Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum (LVM) in Second Life." Following its creation in Second Life, the LVM branched out to include different online platforms to build an immersive educational experience based on bilingual mixed media experiences.
Thanks to a donation from the Molina Family in 2018, the Center's first gallery space dedicated to celebrate the U.S. Latino experience is scheduled to open at the National Museum of American History in Spring 2022.
Moving ahead to this year on July 27, the United States House of Representatives approved the National Museum of the American Latino Act (H.R. 2420). The bill was introduced by Representative José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) and had 295 co-sponsors. It establishes a Board of Trustees to steer the Museum's creation as part of the Smithsonian and a two-year deadline for determining the museum's location. The act also designates federal funds for 50% of the museum's costs, with the other half needing to be raised through private funding. The bill now moves on to the Senate for approval.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is underway and continues through October 15. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person events and programs are cancelled, but there remain many online resources available to explore the breadth and richness of Latino history, culture, and identity in the United States. To further explore the Center's online presence see the Archives' collections of their websites.
- Smithsonian Latino Center collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Happy Anniversary to the Smithsonian Latino Center! - The Bigger Picture blog
- Smithsonian Latino Center