The National Mall in Washington, D.C. is host to more than a dozen museums, which showcase art and scientific ephemera from a profusion of cultures and eras. Plans for a new National Museum of African American History and Culture are underway and the possibility of a Latino museum looms on the horizon.
[I’m going to add that advocates are vying for funding to build a National Women’s History Museum as well in DC, yet their proposals have been continuously rejected.]
And now it seems that another institution celebrating an aspect of our national heritage is looking to move into the neighborhood. According to the Washington Post, the New York-based Coalition for the National Museum of the American People, under the leadership of retired federal employee Sam Eskenazi, is campaigning for the establishment of an institution that would tell the tale of immigration to the Americas — from travelers arriving 20,000 years ago to people landing on American soil today. Yes, a museum of everybody.
The coalition — which claims on its Web site to have garnered the support of some 130 ethnic and minority organizations and 50 notable scholars — is calling for Congress to appoint a bipartisan commission to investigate the possibility of establishing a museum to tell the history of how 200 centuries of migration formed a nation. This commission would look to gauge whether the proposed museum would fall under the governance of the Smithsonian or not, which would dictate its location and funding. Eskanazi, however, is confidant the museum could be funded by private donors and not taxpayer dollars. After all, it would have a lot of constituents.
According to Eskanazi’s site, “the Museum’s mission would be to advance and disseminate knowledge about the story of the making of the American people and to challenge visitors to reflect upon moral questions that are raised by that story as well as to take pride in it.” The museum would do this by introducing individual immigrants, telling the story of where they came from, why they left their home country, how they got to America, where and among whom they settled, how they became American, and how they left their mark on the nation. The “four chapters” that would frame these stories would be: “the first peoples come” (20,000 years ago-1607), “the nation takes form” (1607-1820), “the great in-gathering” (1820-1924), and “still they come” (1924-present).
A former public affairs director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Eskenazi began working on a proposal for the National Museum of the American People in 2007, but a bill put to Congress in 2008 to create a study commission did not advance, leading Eskenazi to form the coalition in 2009. The coalition claims that the institution could open in 2018 if approved.