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Eduardo Diaz On The Efforts To Create A National Museum Of The American Latino

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The planned National Museum of the American Latino has a new interim director, Eduardo Diaz. And his appointment this past week is the latest step in making the museum a reality as part of the Smithsonian system. Eduardo Diaz joins me now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome.

EDUARDO DIAZ: Thank you very much, Lulu. It's a pleasure to be here. (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last December, Congress authorized the creation of the museum as part of its $2.3 trillion year-end government spending and virus relief package. That was a big step forward. Now you have this appointment. But there's still a long way to go, right?

DIAZ: Yes, there's quite a ways to go. We need to find a permanent director. There's a site selection process that needs to be conducted. We would also need to form a scholarly advisory council to help with the content development and whatnot. So there's - yes, there's quite a ways to go and lots of money to raise, I might add, which is a very important...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes (laughter).

DIAZ: ...Aspect of all of this work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Remind us why having a museum on the mall representing Latinos is so important.

DIAZ: Well, the issue of representation, I think, is critical here. You know, Latinos have played foundational roles in building this country. And the Smithsonian has built these different portals - right? - to tell more diverse and complete stories about the totality of the American experience. And so the National Museum of the American Latino emerges as part of that chain of museums, if you wish, to really fill out the whole story of the history of this country and its culture and its scientific achievements and on and on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am curious. I mean, how do you organize something like this? Do you do it by country of origin? - because as you know and as you mention, the Latino community in the U.S. is so diverse. Do you do it by areas of interest, like music, art, history?

DIAZ: It's very important that we cover all of our communities because, as you correctly note, you know, we're incredibly diverse, right? Twenty-five percent of our community, you know, identifies as African-descended. So you can't talk about the development of Latin jazz, for example, without talking about Afro-Cubans, right? I mean, there would be no Latin jazz, frankly. And so these are very important stories that I think we need to cover over a broad swath of history, even before there was even such of a thing as the United States of America.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's not only an immigrant story.

DIAZ: It's not only an immigrant story. People, you know, sometimes automatically think of us as an immigrant community. But if you look at the Pew Research, I mean, it's indicating that I think roughly 65% of the community's native-born, right? And I'm a Chicano myself, Mexican American. And so sometimes we say, you know, we didn't cross the border; the border crossed us - right? - with the U.S.-Mexico war.

So - but, you know, there are so many stories, you know? I know you're Cuban American. But I bet you if you walk out on the street and say, hey, tell me about Osvaldo Soto, people will look at you like, I don't know. Well, what about the Spanish American League Against Discrimination - right? - and the efforts of Cuban - of the Cuban community in Miami struggling against English-only laws and in favor of bilingual education? People don't know those stories, right? There's so much to tell - the discovery of the Frito, for God's sakes. I mean, so, you know, there's just - you know, you can have a lot of fun.

And on a more somber note, you know, the fact that we know of 547 cases of lynched Mexicans, mostly in Texas and California - and people don't know this other story. So, you know, it's the good, the bad, the ugly - right? - that I think we need to be concerned with and to be able to tell these histories that for many years have been under-researched, underreported and, in some cases, untold.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eduardo Diaz, I do want to ask you this, though, because Latinos have been at the center of a lot of discrimination in recent years, at the center of national debates about what we want this country to look like and be. Do you anticipate that the museum will also be at the center of difficult debates and analysis about what this country is?

DIAZ: You know, the Smithsonian's mission is very clear - the increase and diffusion of knowledge. That's it, right? And so if we abide by that mission of the institution and tell the truth and tell it through a variety of perspectives - that's important - then I think we're doing the right thing. And there are going to be people that are going to take issue with some of what's in the museum. That's unavoidable. You're never going to be able to satisfy everyone's point of view, right? But that's our job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last question - there is a real sense that where the museum needs to be is right on the mall. Do you concur?

DIAZ: I think so. I laughingly said - one time I said, why don't we just build a museum in Los Angeles?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

DIAZ: That didn't go over very well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No.

DIAZ: No, but seriously - you know, yes, I think we do need to be on the mall because, again, we are foundational to the building of this country and shaping its national culture. We definitely need to be on the mall.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eduardo Diaz is the interim director of the planned National Museum of the American Latino.

Thank you very much.

DIAZ: Thank you very much, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCARY GOLDINGS' "SCARY POPPINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.