A congressional debate over funding a new Smithsonian Latino Museum carried on for most of Wednesday afternoon, sometimes passionately, epitomizing a much larger national cleavage over whether America is to be viewed as the land of opportunity or through the lens of oppression, race, and gender ideology.
Behind this important national war of ideas lies another issue. Democrats are frantic to win back millions of Hispanic voters they have lost in the last few electoral cycles. The Latino Museum debate showed, if anything, that they don’t really get why so many in this demographic are leaving the woke reservation in the first place.
Wednesday, they lost the battle. Republicans defeated, by a 27-33 vote during mark-up, a Democratic amendment to restore funding for building the museum and for keeping its first exhibit open. The Republicans had included a policy rider eliminating funding for both in the fiscal 2024 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Bill, which funds the Smithsonian.
A bigger question is the war of ideas. The museum’s initial exhibit is unrelentingly leftist and, frankly, insulting. It depicts Hispanics as America’s victims, as army deserters, drag queens, and traitors, even suggesting that there is honor in deserting a U.S. military post. “Whoever put the exhibit together was trying to make us feel ashamed of being American,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) said.
Republicans say the exhibit, officially called the Molina Family Latino Gallery, currently housed in the National Museum of American History, violates the 2020 law that approved the museum. The law, passed 349-33, promised that the museum would be impartial.
Some Democrats showed embarrassment about the direction the exhibit has taken. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-FL), for example, repeatedly described it as “an admittedly offensive exhibit.” Texas’s Henry Cuellar (D-TX) also showed dismay.
Others, however, clearly appeared to want more of what the exhibit is selling. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), who introduced the amendment to restore funding, treated the matter as if it were a difference over a small part of the exhibit, or a difference with conservative Cuban-Americans from Miami, ignoring that Garcia and other Mexican-Americans were also clearly shocked.
“Just because we cannot agree on one part of it, are we going to drive a stick through the heart of the most important cultural initiatives for Latinos in this country?” asked Espaillat, a former illegal immigrant who is the deputy chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “I will fight for your interpretation of your community included in the right way, but let’s not cut the funding,” he said to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who authored the defunding.
Diaz-Balart had opened the proceedings by asking how many of the Democrats had actually visited the Molina exhibit. Only one member raised his hand, while many of the Republicans had personal anecdotes about the parade of horrors at the truly bizarre Molina Family Latino Gallery.
The exhibit lies about the Hispanic experience in this country, presenting them as victims not victors, in an obvious attempt at seeding grievances that would only help those who seek societal transformation. It thus presents a uniquely Marxist distortion of reality in the United States.
It pretends that Cubans came here for economic reasons, erasing their flight from communism (the cruel, more than 60-year-long Castro tyranny does not rate a mention). The Texas Revolution was fought, it maintains, to ensure that Texas would become a slave state.
Puerto Rico, according to this mendacious exhibit (again, a prelude to what the museum will become), was invaded by the United States in 1898, not saved from the colonial clutches of Spain. Bizarrely, the exhibit, as surely will the museum if ground is ever broken, places a stress on gender and trans issues that is at odds with the Hispanic experience.
Funding such exhibits is how conservatives have unwittingly allowed the Marxist Left to capture the cultural institutions.
Predictably, the Democrats sought to portray the Republicans as seeking to erase Hispanics. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) said that she was “particularly shocked to see the majority’s posture toward Latinos, with a policy rider that prohibits the Smithsonian institution from highlighting the contribution that American Latinos have made to U.S. history and culture.”
But as Diaz-Balart made clear, it’s what the exhibit’s curators chose to highlight that matters. “They could have mentioned, for example, one of the 60 Latino Medal of Honor Recipients. But of course they didn’t do that. They could have talked about Puerto Rico’s 65th infantry regiment, who are recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal. Nope.
“Let me tell you what that exhibit puts as example No. 1 of Latinos in the armed forces,” Diaz-Balart continued. “Here it is, in exhibit most of you have not seen—a convicted deserter. Does anyone here think that represents a Latino in the armed forces?”
Diaz-Balart, a Cuban from Miami, then switched to Spanish to dress down Espaillat, a Dominican who represents Harlem.
“You know very well that the example of Latinos as deserters is an insult. I know that you agree with that. You know that to portray that as an example, that we Latinos are victims, that we’re traitors, is an insult to all of us,” he said. “We Latinos are neither victims nor traitors. We are the backbone of the United States of America, and I am not going to accept insults!”
Diaz-Balart then added, “But I want to work with you to improve this situation.” Indeed, many of the Republicans expressed the hope that the defunding language will not have to be on the final bill, presuming that the Smithsonian curators they plan to meet with next week will agree to make changes.
However, there should be no more funding based on mere promises of future changes. The people who speak for the Democrats now are the likes of Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who dismissed Diaz-Balart as a “MAGA Republican.” And Espaillat may call Diaz-Balart “my friend,” but his Congressional Hispanic Caucus would not allow him in—because he’s a Republican.
The ascendant woke Left must instill in Hispanics the idea of victimhood and grievances, and introduce gender ideology into everything. It doesn’t understand how repugnant these Americans find all that, which is precisely why so many are walking away.
This piece originally appeared in Restoring America by the Washington Examiner