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Washington doesn’t have a Latino history museum. These people are hoping to change that

Hispanic and Latino people make up the largest ethnic minority in the United States and their contributions to American history run deep — including back to the Civil War and the Texas Revolution.

So where’s their Smithsonian museum?

That’s the question a group of advocates will ask during a House Committee on Natural Resources meeting Thursday in support of a bill to create the National Museum of the American Latino in the Smithsonian Institution.

The initiative is backed by the group Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino. CNN reached out to them via a contact forum on their website, but did not immediately receive a response.

The museum would strive to “educate, inspire and encourage respect and understanding of the richness and diversity of the American Latino experience” by highlighting the contributions of Latino people to the US, the group’s website states.

The group’s testimony during a House committee meeting will be a big step toward reaching that vision, but more work lies ahead.

How does a Smithsonian museum get established?

The process involves a lot of time and a lot of legislation.

The journey toward a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino began in 2004. Former President George W. Bush signed legislation creating a 23-member Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino, according to the group’s website. It was enacted in 2008 by then-President Barack Obama.

Since then, a version of the National Museum of the American Latino Act — a bill designed to establish the museum officially and begin the construction process — has been in Congress since 2011. It has never made it out of committee to be voted upon.

But this year, things might actually be different.

Once a bill is released by a House committee, it goes to the floor to be voted on. With a majority, 218 of 435 votes, the bill will move on to the Senate and, eventually, the President.

And this year’s version of the bill has 216 cosponsors in the House — the highest number its ever had. Though that’s not yet enough for a majority, it’s pretty close, and could be a positive sign.

Other museums in the making for minority groups

Latino people aren’t the only ones trying to get a national Smithsonian museum. In this congressional session alone, there are similar bills for a Smithsonian Women’s History Museum, a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture, and a National Museum of Irish American History.

Of all the bills, the Women’s History Museum has the most traction. With 293 co-sponsors, the bill has been placed on the House’s consensus calendar, which allows bipartisan bills with at least 290 co-sponsors (two-thirds of the House) to be brought to the floor for voting.

Regardless, the bills all have a long way to go. And Lonnie Bunch, who heads the Smithsonian Institution and was the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, didn’t say whether he would use his influence to support the potential museums when asked by the Washington Post earlier this year.

“I believe in letting a thousand flowers bloom, but I don’t want to create anything if we don’t have the resources, the skills, the collections to match what we did at the African American Museum,” he said.

CNN called a representative for Bunch, but he was unavailable at the time.

The act establishing the African American Museum passed Congress in 2003, following “decades of efforts,” the museum’s website reads. It opened to the public in 2016.

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