Molina Family Latino Gallery and “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” Will Debut at the National Museum of American History
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino will inaugurate the Molina Family Latino Gallery June 18 with its first exhibition, “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States.” The Latino Museum will open the gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and offer exhibitions and programs over the course of 10 years leading up to the opening of the museum’s building.
“The Molina Family Latino Gallery is the first iteration of the National Museum of the American Latino,” said Jorge Zamanillo, director of the National Museum of the American Latino. “It will take 10 to 12 years to open a museum building, but the gallery gives the public a preview of the museum’s potential.”
As the Molina Family Latino Gallery’s premiere exhibition, “¡Presente!” introduces visitors to key concepts, moments and biographies that illuminate U.S. Latinos’ historical and cultural legacies. The exhibition also tells the stories of Latinas and Latinos who have shaped the United States. Indigenous freedom fighter Toypurina, Mexican American union leader César Chávez, Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente, Guatemalan labor organizer Luisa Moreno, Colombian American drag queen José Sarria and Cuban American singer Celia Cruz are some of the historical and contemporary figures featured in the exhibition.
A companion website highlights select oral histories, 3D objects, historical biographies and objects in the “¡Presente!” exhibition.
The 4,500-square-foot gallery is designed as a space where multigenerational and cross-cultural visitors can celebrate and learn about Latino history and culture year-round. The Molina Family Latino Gallery is anchored in the universal principles of inclusive design to create a personally engaging and empowering visitor experience for visitors with varying physical, sensory and cognitive conditions. In addition, all content is available in English and Spanish. Audiences can learn how Latinos and Latinas have helped shape the United States and its national culture through historical artifacts, multimedia interactives, sensorial experiences and a learning space.
Ceiling-high object cases organized into four key themes line the gallery’s perimeter and showcase relevant historical artifacts, revealing documents, personal stories and interpretive graphics. The historical themes cover “Colonial Legacies,” “War and U.S. Expansion,” “Immigration Stories,” and “Shaping the Nation.”
Eight-foot-tall interactive digital displays form El Foro (The Forum) at the center of the gallery where visitors can engage with 12 first-person oral histories from contemporary figures. Visitors can select stories through the touchscreen or an adjacent accessibility keypad.
The Somos Theater provides visitors with a contemplative space to watch the multimedia project “Somos” (“We Are”). The video installation was directed by writer and filmmaker Alberto Ferreras. “Somos” is the first commissioned piece for the theater and features a diverse group of Latinas and Latinos discussing identity, family histories and firsthand experiences.
MUSLE, or Mapping the U.S. Latino Experience, delivers visual representations of national demographic data to tell the stories of the Latino experience in the United States. Visitors can activate one of four touchscreens to explore the 16 stories on income inequality, education, diversity and more. Graphs and other images illustrate significant data points and convey stories from community organizations.
The General Motors Learning Lounge, a multifunctional studio within the Molina Gallery, will host presentations and hands-on activities. When needed, the lounge can be converted into a gathering place suitable for storytelling, podcasts and lectures. The General Motors Learning Lounge is part of the Latino Museum’s strategy to enhance lifelong learning and increase access to the collections and resources spanning the arts, sciences and humanities that are available through the Smithsonian, Latino Museum and affiliated museums.
The Molina Family Latino Gallery was made possible by support from individuals, foundations and corporations, including a $10 million lead gift from the family of C. David and Mary Molina. C. David Molina was a health-care leader in California who founded Molina Healthcare Inc.
“This is a special year for the Molina Family Latino Gallery to open,” said Eduardo Díaz, acting deputy director of the National Museum of the American Latino. “It was 25 years ago that the Smithsonian founded the Latino Center to increase Latino representation across the Institution, which also helped pave the way for the Latino Museum. I am proud to have played a role in the gallery’s development and to help usher in the new Latino Museum.”
The Molina Family Latino Gallery integrates the universal principles of inclusive and accessible design to ensure the exhibition’s content and overall experience are accessible to visitors with varying physical, sensory and brain-based conditions. Created with the highest standards of accessible design in mind, the fully bilingual gallery space includes:
- An Accessibility Panel at the entrance to introduce the accessible features of the gallery
- Touch experiences paired with tactile keypads that allows visitors who are blind, have low vision or limited mobility to navigate the interface
- Quiet hours where volume is lowered for visitors on the autism spectrum, those with sensory processing disorders, or hypersensitivity to sound
- Audio description of visual content for visitors who are blind or have low vision, or who have brain-based disabilities
- Audio handsets with inductive loops for visitors with hearing impairments
- Assisted listening systems in the gallery, theater space and the Learning Lounge
Hispanic Heritage Month Programming
To complement the celebration of the gallery’s opening and commemorate 25 years of Latinidad (Latino culture) at the Smithsonian, two days of public events will kick off Hispanic Heritage Month in September, including an Evening Dance Party Friday, Sept. 16, and a Latino Heritage Family Day Saturday, Sept. 17.
About the National Museum of the American Latino
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino advances the representation, understanding and appreciation of Latino history and culture in the United States. The museum provides financial resources and collaborates with other museums to expand scholarly research, public programs, digital content, collections and more. The museum’s Molina Family Latino Gallery is the Smithsonian’s first gallery dedicated to the Latino experience. The legislation creating the National Museum of the American Latino at the Smithsonian passed Dec. 27, 2020. A search for a museum site is underway and scheduled to be announced by December 2022. Connect with us at latino.si.edu, and follow @USLatinoMuseum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.