Is the Smithsonian Trying to Balkanize or Simply Represent?

Is the Smithsonian Trying to Balkanize or Simply Represent?


In the last decade, the Smithsonian has opened the National Museum of the American Indian and commissioned the The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is expected to open in 2015. Now a commission has been tasked to determine options for a museum focusing on Latino contributions. The National Museum of the American Latino Commission is scheduled to release its findings next month; however, even with Congressional support and Eva Longoria’s star power, the commission has a tough sell. In addition to budget constraints and a general immigrant hostility emanating from certain quarters of the GOP, Representative Jim Moran, D-Virginia, was recently quoted as saying, “I don’t want a situation where whites go to the original museum, African-Americans go to the African-American museum, Indians go to the Indian museum, Hispanics go to the Latino American museum. That’s not America.”

Congressman Moran is wrong on several points. “America” is not a fixed construct but a constantly evolving ideal.  For example, when Congress founded the Smithsonian in 1846 those of African descent were still largely enslaved and not considered citizens. Nor were American Indians, who weren’t even recognized as persons in the eyes of the law. Hispanics were the majority population in the newly acquired states of Texas, Florida, and California, but many weren’t allowed to vote.  “America” has clearly been a different thing altogether at different points in its history.

Rep. Moran’s fear of Balkanized National Mall is also groundless. Were the Congressman to avail himself of the free museums in our nation’s capital, he would quickly observe that none are being overrun by hordes of brown people. He would also realize that our country’s white citizens, as well as, our many guests from abroad seem quite interested in learning about America’s marginalized citizens. If we turn to the Smithsonian’s estimated visits for each of its museums, we find that the American Indian Museum is among the most popular.

In 2010 1.3 million visits were made to the American Indian museum. Only four of the Smithsonian’s nineteen facilities received more visits, and one of those isn’t even a museum but the National Zoo. Unless half the Native Americans calculated by the U.S. Census made their way to Washington, DC last year, we can assume that other racial and ethnic groups made up a significant portion of those visits. It should also be noted that the Holocaust Museum, which isn’t a part of the Smithsonian Institute, receives an estimated 2 million visits every year.

American is still grappling with how to give proper recognition to all of its citizens who have made significant contributions to this company. What would Congressman Moran have us do about the neglected history of the half of this country who are not white? Does it make sense that our museums reflect one face of this nation?

Some 20 years ago, a task force produced a report called, “Willful Neglect,” which found that Latinos weren’t represented in any meaningful way in any of the Smithsonian museums. For example, of the 470 people featured in the “notable Americans” section of the National Portrait Gallery, only 2 are Latinos. That news shouldn’t only be troubling to the 50 million Hispanics in this country, but to all of us.

I don’t hear Moran proposing that we merge the Air and Space Museum with the History Museum. Nor should he–both are needed. Why? For the same reason separate Halls of Fame are needed to honor those who’ve contributed to football, basketball, and baseball; a litany of awards shows celebrate country, soul, and Latino music; and the Golden Globes, Oscars, and Emmys are all needed to acknowledge theatrical achievements. There is simply no way to cram everything of significance into one general vehicle. A few big names and events will cross over and make their way into the general discussion, but a platform that showcases a more narrow focus allows for a greater level of depth and expertise than can be acheived otherwise. The curators of our national history seem to know this.


  1. That's fine, as long as the attributes of African-American/Blacks is defined. To many times, on TV and Radio, I hear about attributes regarding Mexican-Americans contribution, in which, African-Americans initiated and were the fomenters. Example: There were no horse in America until the Spaniards bought them ashore, as there was no race call Mexican. Only after the old battle cry came out, 'if you can't beat them, join them'…hanse, the Mexican population. Then, as far as Cowboys are concern, they now try and take that entitlement, when African-Americans were the real Cowboys.

    Proof: Who were they calling 'Boy' in that day and time? This is NOT meant to be racist before you go there…it's history, it's the truth, and the truth shall set you free!!!

    How are a people kept down? ‘Never know' their history.

    "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."

    Dr. Carter G. Woodson 1875 – 1950

    “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

    Marcus Garvey 1887-1940

    "A tree without roots can bare no fruit, it will die."

    Erich Martin Hicks 1952 – Present

    Keep telling that history, our history:

    Read the novel; Rescue at Pine Ridge, "RaPR", a great story of Black military history…the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers.

    The 7th Cavalry was entrapped again, after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.

    Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial…and visit the website

    I know you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote the story that embodied the Native Americans, Outlaws and African-American/Black Soldiers, from the south to the north, in the days of the Native American Wars with the approaching United States of America. This story is about, brutality, compassion, reprisal, bravery, heroism and gallantry. Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, the story of the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.

    When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for the United States Postal System in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.