WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian Institution on February 1 was asked to study the feasibility of establishing a new national museum in Washington telling the story about the making of the American people. The request was made by the Coalition for the National Museum of the American People, which is composed of 239 ethnic, nationality and minority organizations.
The museum’s story would begin with the first humans in the Western Hemisphere and progress through waves of migration and immigration to today. “We believe that it will be one of the greatest and most compelling storytelling museums in the world as it breathes new life into the first words of our Constitution: ‘We the People,’” said Sam Eskenazi, director of the coalition.
“Walking through it would be like walking through a dynamic documentary telling the history of all of the groups that came to this land and nation and became Americans,” he said.
In a letter to the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents Executive Committee, Mr. Eskenazi said, “Americans came from every nation, race and religion, and 90 percent of us still recognize the distinct ethnicity of our heritage, whether from Europe, Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands or the Americas. The museum will show how all of the people shaped the United States economically, militarily, scientifically, agriculturally and culturally, creating our extraordinary unique nation.”
The proposed museum plans to welcome all Americans to learn about their own groups’ stories, some of which are very difficult, and learn about all of the others. Foreign leaders and visitors would come away from it with a better understanding of the diverse and pluralistic American nation.
The museum would show the influence of the country’s central founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, in shaping the American character.
The letter from the coalition also requested that the Smithsonian seek to have a National Park Service site four blocks south of the National Mall transferred to it for use as a future museum site.
Mr. Eskenazi told the Smithsonian that the study should be paid for by special gifts for that purpose and offered to assist the Smithsonian in obtaining those funds. He added that none of the money sought to plan, build and operate the museum should come from federal funds. He urged the Smithsonian to begin the study this year.
He acknowledged the major financial commitments facing the Smithsonian and pressure on it to build new museums dedicated to women’s history and to the American Latino. “But,” he said, “no museum can claim to have the impact that the National Museum of the American People will have on the future of our nation. Both of those histories are incorporated into the NMAP story.”
The museum, he said, “will help foster a sense of belonging, contribute to our national identity and help unify our country as it embodies our original national motto: ‘E Pluribus Unum’ ” – from many, one.
Mr. Eskenazi said that the scholarly-based NMAP “should become the next great jewel in the Smithsonian’s family of museums as it will become a memorial for all of our predecessors and a guidepost for our descendants in this century and those to follow.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Among the 239 organizations of 72 ethnic groups that support this initiative is the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. According to the Ukrainian National Information Service, many organizations of the Central and East European Coalition also are supportive of the effort.