The Smithsonian Institution reportedly has suspended an exhibit intended as a foretaste of the forthcoming National Museum of the American Latino in the nation’s capital. One of the critics whose work inspired the move is calling on Congress to defund the planned museum.
The exhibit “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” opened at the National Museum of American History in June 2022. Jorge Zamanillo, director of the forthcoming Latino museum, billed the display as “the first iteration” of his eventual museum.
Shortly after the exhibit opened, however, it faced harsh criticism.
Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles; Joshua Treviño, a director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation; and Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, condemned the exhibit as a “disgrace” that offers an “unabashedly Marxist portrayal of history, religion and economics” in an op-ed in The Hill.
Time magazine reported Friday that the Smithsonian suspended another exhibit, focused on civil rights and meant as a further taste of the upcoming museum, following opposition Time traced back to that article.
The now-suspended exhibit would have been “the largest federally funded Smithsonian exhibit on Latino civil rights history,” featuring “student walkouts, efforts to integrate schools, and environmental and immigration activism.” The Smithsonian will replace the exhibit with one focused on salsa and Latin music.
“While I and my co-authors are happy that we stopped this new monstrosity of an exhibit, the overtly Marxist nature of what it was going to be should serve as a warning to conservatives—defund the Smithsonian Latino Museum,” Gonzalez told The Daily Signal in a written statement Friday. (The Daily Signal is The Heritage Foundation’s multimedia news organization.)
“If you don’t, then expect millions of Hispanics, about one-fifth of the population, to come under this type of Marxist indoctrination,” Gonzalez warned.
“I am glad that they decided not to proceed with the civil rights exhibit because it did sound like it was going to be another one that pushed a leftist narrative, but to me it just confirms my belief that Congress should defund the museum,” Aguilar told The Daily Signal in a phone call Friday. “I don’t have any trust in the Smithsonian at this point, and I think that this project should be paused until Congress and the American people can get assurances that this is going to be a responsible and objective effort.”
Aguilar warned that exhibits such as “¡Presente!” frame the Hispanic experience in America as an exercise in “victimhood,” which he called “totally absurd.”
Although Americans of Hispanic origin naturally may support a Hispanic-themed museum, “when they find out what this is about, they’re angry,” Aguilar said. “They don’t want to see a museum that advances an extremist narrative of the history of their community in the United States.”
Although the Smithsonian claims to present a kind of diversity, Aguilar faulted the group of museums for excluding intellectual diversity.
“They basically say that the history of Hispanics in the U.S. is about the struggle for social justice in support of all these leftist causes,” he said. “That might be the experience of a few Hispanics on the extreme Left, but not the majority.”
“In balance, the history of Hispanics in the U.S. is very positive,” Aguilar said. “It’s one of achievement, it’s one of prosperity, and that’s what [the exhibit] is missing.”
In their op-ed, Aguilar, Treviño, and Gonzalez highlighted three “tendentious or downright false assertions” presented by the “¡Presente!” exhibit:
- The United States stole one-third of Mexico in 1848.
- Cubans came here seeking economic opportunity, not to escape communist barbarism.
- The Texas Revolution was a defense of slavery against an abolitionist Mexico.
In reality, the U.S. obtained land from Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848; Cubans fled oppression under the Castro regime; and although Mexico had outlawed slavery before Texas declared its independence in 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence does not refer to slavery.
Aguilar, Treviño, and Gonzalez also fault the exhibit for failing to mention left-wing and Marxist dictators such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. The exhibit did, however, mention right-wing autocrats “for the purpose of accusing the United States of supporting regional oppression in the fight against communism.”
The three critics also condemn the exhibit for failing to mention “the Hispanic contributions to the American founding, most notably in the campaigns of the Spanish commander Bernardo de Gálvez against British forces in Louisiana and Florida.” They note the absence of Adm. David Farragut, the half-Spanish commander of the Union fleet at Mobile Bay; Jose de la Luz Saenz, a Tejano who volunteered for service in World War I and returned to found the League of United Latin American Citizens; and Medal of Honor recipients Roy P. Benavidez and Freddy Gonzalez.
“The Latino exhibit simply erases the existence of the Hispanic who loves, contributes to, benefits from and exemplifies the promise of American liberty,” they write. “That is to say, it erases the Hispanic majority.”
The Smithsonian Institution did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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