U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced legislation Thursday to create a presidential commission to investigate a possible “melting pot museum.”
The Museum of the American People would cover the role of immigration and migration in the evolution of American society. It would tell the story of how diverse races, religions and ethnicities coexist in this nation.
“The people of the United States do not have a comprehensive and accurate picture of all the peoples who created and continue to build the nation,” the bill reads.
“With 160 museums and monuments along the National Mall, there is no one institution telling the complete narrative of the many, vibrant ethnicities that make up the fabric of the American experience,” Moran said. “There should always be room for museums in our nation’s capital devoted to all manner of art, cultural and scientific accomplishments, but we must leave future generations room on the National Mall to honor their heroes and causes. The Museum of the American People would bring together all the stories of the ethnicities that make up the fabric of our society, precluding the need for more and more individual museums representing one particular ethnicity or culture.”
More than 130 ethnic and minority groups support the legislation, which was cosponsored by Reps. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), and Delegates Eni Faleomavagea (D-American Samoa) and Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands).
American University history professor Alan Kraut, who has written on immigration and chairs the history advisory committee for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, is one of more than 50 scholars who have expressed support for the creation of an immigration museum. Kraut said the story of the American people can't be told often enough, the Associated Press reported.
“It's a dream to have some discussion of the American people in a city that is filled with monuments mostly to great white men,” Kraut said. “It's a desire to do something for the American people, for those who came here and built the country.”
The immigration museum concept wouldn't necessarily replace any other museum proposed for the National Mall, Kraut said. The Smithsonian is developing an African-American history museum that is scheduled to open in 2015, the AP reported. Other groups have proposed museums devoted to the history of women, gays and other groups.
“The last remaining places on the National Mall are becoming filled with museums that deliver stories of a specific ethnic group — like the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the proposed National Museum of the American Latino,” Moran wrote on POLITICO. “If this trend continues, we threaten to make our already heavily concentrated Mall overcrowded, leaving future generations no room to honor their heroes and causes, while severely burdening the Smithsonian’s budget.”
Any well-done museum can draw a broad audience of those interested in history, Kraut said.
“I'm less concerned with the number of museums,” he said. “But what I don't want, what I would find very repugnant, is simply bland celebration, self-aggrandizement of the various groups, rather than responsible history.”
In addition to a permanent exhibit, the museum would house a National Genealogical Center, Center for Advanced Studies of the American People, and an education and resource center.
One challenge could be not leaving any group out. Some historians have criticized the content of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian for failing to provide a cohesive narrative by appealing to the desires of various tribes. It could serve as a model “of what not to do” at an immigration museum, Kraut said.
The presidential commission and the museum would be paid for with private funding.