Washington – Actress Eva Longoria, music producer Emilio Estefan and 21 other members of a presidential commission created in 2008 on Thursday asked Congress to support the first national Latino museum in the United States, in recognition of the contributions of the Hispanic community for more than 500 years in this country.
The presidential commission, created during the Bush administration, in a crowded press conference in the Capitol presented its final report to Congress and to President Barack Obama regarding the construction of the museum within the Smithsonian Institution complex on the Washington Mall.
"Latinos in the United States are a key part of the fabric of the nation. There is an urgency, a desire and a need to (have) a Latino museum on the Mall in Washington, and a better understanding that the long history and significant contributions of Latinos in the United States benefit everyone, not just Latinos," Longoria said.
Estefan, meanwhile, said that it was an "historic day" and a "moment of pride" for the 50 million Latinos in this country, without regard for their nationality or political affiliation.
"It's a country that we adore, that we're grateful to," Estefan, who promised to continue fighting for the museum, said.
The museum has the support of Hispanic lawmakers and Cabinet members, some of whom participated in the event.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said that it was an opportune circumstance to deliver the report to Obama, the first African American president in U.S. history and a person who, as the son of a Kenyan immigrant, knows the immigrants' struggle.
The museum is necessary and its location on the Mall - between the Capitol and the Washington Monument - is ideal "because it celebrates the history and contributions of the Latino community" in the United States, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
Among the next steps that need to be taken to make the museum - the cost of which will be about $600 million - a reality is that Congress will have to approve it and contribute half the funds, Salazar said.
It will not be easy and there is still no start date for its construction, but "yes, we can; yes, we're going to do it," Salazar said.
The idea is for Congress to approve the site of the museum and make a commitment of $300 million for the museum's construction, commission chairman Henry Muñoz said.
The commission will collect the other half of the funds from the private sector, Muñoz said.
Although the commission did not provide any details about the content, programs or collections to be housed in the museum, the future cultural institution may well include exhibits about the Latino presence here before the country's founding in 1776.
In addition, for example, the museum could emphasize the founding in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles of St. Augustine, Florida, the first city established in what is today the United States, 42 years before the English colonial settlement in Jamestown, Virginia.
No doubt, the museum will reflect the role of the Spanish explorers, the contributions of Hispanics in all the country's wars, including the Revolutionary War, and the growing Latino participation in the cultural, economic and social fabric of the country.
The report was presented at a time when Latino influence in the country is growing substantially.
One in every six people in the United States, according to the 2010 Census, is of Latino origin with Hispanics representing 16 percent of the total population.