WASHINGTON, D.C. – In less than a year, the United States will celebrate its 240th birthday. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965 – which replaced the nation’s country-of-origin preferences for immigrants with admission based on skills and family relationships – just celebrated its 50th last week.
Yet in this country so often referred to as “a nation of immigrants,” there isn’t a bona fide museum to celebrate the American people – all American people.
But the Coalition for the National Museum of the American People seeks to change all of that. And its Director, Sam Eskinazi, explained to us that among the archives could be a room devoted to foreign language publications, such as The National Herald. On October 3, the date of the INA’s 50th anniversary, the Coalition sent the a letter to President Obama proposing a National Museum of the American People (NMAP), to be established in Washington, DC. ExcerpAsks Obama to Establish a Museum of the American People.
Excerpts from the letter are included here:
“On October 3rd, 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened the door to millions of new Americans and their descendants. To help build on the legacy of that landmark law, we urge you to create a bipartisan commission to study establishment of the National Museum of the American People. “The museum will relate the history of the making of the American People, a story which embodies our original national motto: E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). This museum will celebrate every group from every land who have become Americans – “We the People.” It will show how people from every place on earth helped make this country the world’s economic, military, scientific and cultural leader.
“The museum will showcase how, when, why and from where we arrived in this land, our movements across the plains and mountains of the country, what each group encountered and how each helped to transform our nation.
“The narrative begins in the prehistoric period and progresses through waves of migration and immigration until today. We expect it to be the best storytelling museum in the world as it depicts one of the world’s greatest stories.
“The National Museum of the American People will become a lasting cultural legacy. All Americans will come to learn the story of their own ethnic, national or minority groups, and to learn about all of the others. Foreign visitors will come to better understand our incredibly diverse nation.
“We seek no appropriated funds to plan, design, build or operate the museum. We envision a commission like the one that led to the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We look forward to working with you to realize the National Museum of the American People.”
Eskinazi was previously the Holocaust Museum’s Director of Public Information.
THE VISION According to the Coalition’s website nmap2015.com, the proposal, still a work in progress, would tell our nation’s story in four chapters: Chapter I — The First Peoples Come: Prehistoric period – 1607 Chapter II — The Nation Takes Form: 1607 – 1820 Chapter III — The Great In–Gathering: 1820 – 1924 Chapter IV — And Still They Come: 1924 – present. But considering all the various ethnic groups that have settled in the United States, we asked Eskinazi, how big must this museum be to do justice to all of them? “We will do justice to all of the stories in the manner of how the museum will tell the story,” he explains. “For most Americans, their story will begin in the third chapter. And as the groups came in, especially in that major period of immigration at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, their stories will be told. “The museum will use modern technology and electronic graphics as well as other tools at the disposal of the museum designers to help tell these stories in a dramatic, inclusive way. Greek-Americans will certainly see their stories about when they came, why they left, where they settled and where they moved on to. It will also highlight some of their major accomplishments. Walking through the museum will be like walking through a documentary film about the making of the American People.
“The British and other Western Europeans come in the second chapter and into the third. And at the end of the third chapter large numbers come from Southern and Eastern Europe. All of these stories will be told. Greek-Americans are clearly one of the significant groups whose story will be told here. Would the Museum consider devoting space to differences in American culture based on geography (such as, contrasting the cultures of New Yorkers, Hawaiians, and Oklahomans? The Coalition now seeks the creation of a Presidential Commission to study the Museum’s development. Questions like that one will be considered, and besides the Museum itself, Eskinazi points out, “there would be special exhibition spaces where temporary exhibits could be displayed.” The next step, he says, is that U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the way toward introducing such a resolution in Congress. In the previous Congress, Eskinazi says, there were 48 bipartisan cosponsors supporting such a commission.
“We envision that there would be a library and archive associated with the Museum, including links on the Museum’s website” to honor ethnic literature, media, television shows, movies, and the like. Among those, the oldest foreign language publication in the United States, The National Herald. Eskinazi concludes by reemphasizing some of the main points included in the letter to President Obama, which was signed by an array of historians and 46 ethnic organizations, including AHEPA and the American Hellenic Institute, both of which Eskinazi refers to as longtime supporters of this cause.
“The Museum will facilitate learning about our history nationwide. Everyone will come to learn their own stories and will learn about all of the others. Foreign visitors, including those from Greece, will learn how their countrymen contributed to the United States. The Museum will be the embodiment of our original national motto: E Pluribus Unum and will show that we are all Americans.