WASHINGTON -- The National Museum of the American Latino moved one step closer to reality Tuesday with a kickoff event at the U.S. Capitol for the museum's commission featuring Hollywood actress Eva Longoria Parker and music producer Emilio Estefan.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked the congressionally created commission to report back to lawmakers in one year instead of two on the viability of the museum, with lead organizers predicting that a museum celebrating the American Latino experience, possibly on the National Mall, is about 10 years away.
"This is just one more step in a dream that started six years ago," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., who sponsored the bill in the House creating the commission. The announcement during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) underscored the U.S. Latino community's push for recognition for cultural and historical accomplishments. Latinos now make up 15 percent of the U.S. population.
Longoria Parker, who stood out in a lipstick red dress, said she was excited and honored to be on the commission.
"Today marks an incredible day of recognition for American Latinos," the "Desperate Housewives" star said. "We will work diligently on the possibility of creating a museum. Working together we will make our community stronger and more vibrant."
The 23-member commission will produce a report laying out the vision, rationale, funding and possible locations for the museum.
"Today is definitely a proud day," said Estefan, the commission's second vice president and the husband of singer Gloria Estefan. "This could never have happened 20 years ago. We're proud. We're going to create a legacy that will last forever."
Supporters will have to show they can raise between $250 million and $500 million for the museum.
Becerra said that a museum celebrating Latino life in the U.S. would fill a gap in American cultural history celebrating minorities -- the National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004 and the National Museum of African American History and Culture is expected to open on the Mall in 2015.
All of which has fired up Latino activists.
"It is going to get done," Salazar said of the Latino museum. Salazar sponsored the bill creating the museum commission when he was a U.S. senator from Colorado.
"It's historic," said commission chairman Henry Munoz III of Texas, a San Antonio businessman, who said a possible site for the museum is the Smithsonian's shuttered Arts & Industries Building, which the commission members toured Tuesday morning.
"It might help accelerate the process if we go with an existing building."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington
McClatchy Newspapers 2009