Actress Diane Guerrero joins lawmakers' call for national Latino museum

Herb Jackson

USA Today

Jun 15, 2017

Latino members of Congress from both parties said Thursday that a national museum devoted to their people's contributions to American history is long overdue, and Passaic-born actress and immigration activist Diane Guerrero was there to urge them on.

"This is the kind of stuff me and my friends talk about. We sit around and drink coffee and we’re really angry: We’re like, ‘Where’s the Latino Museum?'" Guerrero, a star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, said at a news conference at the Capitol. "Where can we go with our families, where can we go with our friends to learn about our history?"

Born in Passaic, Guerrero was raised in Boston and was 14 when her parents were taken by immigration authorities and deported to Colombia. She has become outspoken on behalf of immigrants, including "dreamers" such as herself.

"I dreamed of being an artist," Guerrero said. "I loved to sing and dance and play-act and I always believed that my dream to become an actor would come true because my immigrant parents had taught me to believe in the American dream."

In a brief interview, she said being born in the United States was "the greatest gift that I've ever received."

Lawmakers arrayed behind her included Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from Paramus, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who have been pushing Congress to create a National Museum of the American Latino through the Smithsonian Institution.

"Since the dawn of our democracy Hispanic Americans have been an indisputable part of American history and new chapters of that history are written every day," said Menendez, whose parents fled Cuba just before he was born in New York City.

Menendez said he wants the museum to be built "right where it belongs, on the National Mall, beside the Native American Museum, the African American Museum."

Menendez said a bill being reintroduced on Thursday has bipartisan support — his cosponsors include Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas — and would build on legislation passed in 2008 and create a 19-member board of trustees to work with the Smithsonian board of regents on planning, design and construction.

The board would also be able to receive federal appropriations along with the private donations that museum backers have been raising, Menendez said.

Lawmakers were asked to gauge the odds of the museum getting federal backing under President Donald Trump, who has called for building a wall along the Mexico border and taken a harder stance on deportations, when it didn't happen under President Barack Obama.

Ros-Lehtinen, who has announced her retirement from Congress after this term, said she would not accept the premise that the current environment is hostile to Latinos.

"But this would be a great opportunity to make amends for previous errors," she said.