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Where Are The Latinos In The Smithsonian's U.S. History Exhibit?

 national museum of american history

On the broad streets of Washington, D.C., and within the majestic halls of the U.S. Capitol, our often-hidden Hispanic heritage had not been hard to find. My Great Hispanic American History Tour had discovered many remarkable monuments and works of art recognizing Hispanic patriots and heroes and their contributions to this great nation. I was truly impressed — until I got to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Wow! After visiting so many Hispanic historical sites around the country, what a disappointment!
It was as if I had walked into an average American history book, with all its typical blatant omissions of the contributions of Hispanic Americans. I was amazed to find that “American Stories,” the museum’s main exhibit outlining American history, rudely and disrespectfully begins in 1776 — and omits the 263 years when mostly Spanish settlers explored and built this nation after Juan Ponce de Leon discovered what is now the U.S. mainland in 1513.
Among these “American Stories” — represented by photos of prominent Americans — you see many white, black and Native American faces. But I was dumbfounded by how few Hispanic faces are part of these montages.
The exhibit is broken into several periods of American history, with large displays devoted to “1776-1801: Forming a New Nation, 1801-1870: Expansion and Reform, 1870-1900: Industrial Development, 1900-1945: Emergence of Modern America, 1945-Present: Postwar and Contemporary America.”
As if Hispanics were latecomers instead of pioneers to American history, I found only two Hispanic faces in “American Stories,” and they were both on the 1945-present display — union leader Cesar Chavez and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
But I kept looking for a display that wasn’t there. I kept searching for one that could have been called “1513-1776: The Mostly Spanish Exploration and Settlement of North America.” Unfortunately, in this museum, that portion of American history has obviously succumbed to that centuries-old anti-Hispanic propaganda known as the Black Legend — which leads many historians to distort or omit Hispanic American history.
All I found about those missing centuries was a tiny map of the Spanish empire in 1754, with a caption noting that “the Spanish were the first to colonize North America. Since the 1500s they had established settlements in the Caribbean, in Mexico and from Florida to California.”
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