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Coalition Announces American People
Museum Storyline

By on January 24, 2014

(January 9, 2014) The broad coalition of ethnic, nationality and minority groups supporting creation of the National Museum of the American People announced today the storyline it would follow as it tells about every group that came to this land and nation and became Americans. It is about the making of the American People and would be the first such museum in the United States.

The museum will tell every group’s immigration and migration stories in the manner of a dramatic documentary that depicts the ancestors of Americans and new immigrants crossing oceans and continents and beginning new lives. The museum will show who these people were, where they came from, when they came, why they left their homeland, when they got here, where they first settled, who was already here, what they encountered, where they moved after they arrived, how they became Americans and how they transformed the nation.

“The museum will celebrate all of the peoples who came here from every land and foster a sense of belonging to the nation and contribute to our unified national identity,” said Sam Eskenazi, Director of the Coalition for the National Museum of the American People. “It will embody our original national motto: E Pluribus Unum – From Many We are One!”

Rep. Jim Moran, D-VA, lead sponsor of a resolution backing the museum, said “People from every American ethnic and minority group will visit to learn their own group’s story and will learn about all of the others. Foreign visitors will learn how natives from their homelands became Americans and contributed to our nation.

“Every constituent of every member of Congress will have their group’s story told here,” he said. “The museum will show how the United States came to lead the world in economic, scientific, military and cultural attainments.”

The story will be told in four chapters: Chapter 1 – The First Peoples Come (prehistoric period–1607) tells about the migration of American Indians and the great tribal cultures and civilizations established throughout the Western Hemisphere, early European explorers and their earliest settlements.

Chapter 2 – The Nation Takes Form (1607–1820) explores the near extinction of Indians, English and Western European settlements, the African slave trade, the establishment of the United States, the beginning of its expansion taking in new peoples through the Louisiana Purchase, and peoples moving into lands that would subsequently be taken over by the United States.

Chapter 3 – The Great In-Gathering (1820–1924) tells about a century of immigration when the ancestors of most Americans arrive. This 104-year period is characterized by industrialization and urbanization, and is punctuated by the Civil War. Immigrants come from throughout Europe and parts of Asia in large numbers and the U.S. takes over Hispanic and other lands in the West including Alaska and islands in the Pacific and Caribbean, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Chapter 4 – And Still They Come (1924–present) is about the ongoing story of American immigration and migration. This includes the story of the refugees from World War II and the Holocaust, Korea, Cuba and Vietnam.

The story would follow a chronological approach that would place each new group in the context of the time it arrived. For example, Hispanics who settled in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 will be in the first chapter. Hispanics who moved into lands that would later be taken over by the United States would have part of their story told when they moved onto those lands in the second chapter and part told when the U.S. took over those lands in the third chapter. And Hispanics and Latinos continue to be a significant part of the museum’s story in the fourth chapter.

The ongoing final chapter portrays the evolving and dynamic rich mixture that we label “American.” Over the last few decades, one of the biggest national stories has been the steady flow of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, from Mexico and other parts of Latin America as well as many other immigrants from Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe since 1965. “The compelling story of American migration and immigration is still writing itself,” Eskenazi said.

The story in the museum’s permanent exhibition will be presented using a variety of media, including artifacts, film, visuals, dioramas, graphics, text, computer technology and models, in a framework that would encourage reflection as visitors absorb the story. Text and visuals in the exhibition would be geared for school children as well as adults.

“The museum’s permanent exhibition should leave an indelible impression of knowledge and understanding on visitors as they engage and come to know the full story of the making of the American People,” Moran said.

The scholarly-driven story would be developed by teams of historians, anthropologists, archeologists, ethnologists, human geographers, sociologists, demographers, geneticists, linguists and others who would themselves represent the broad spectrum of groups whose stories they would help tell.

“While the story would follow a consensus of their views, significant historic and scientific dissenting views could also be included,” Eskenazi said. “The museum would tell the story ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. With force and clarity, it would examine both grand themes and unpleasant truths, and avoid mythology.”

The museum is supported by a coalition of more than 150 ethnic and minority organizations. A resolution in Congress, H. Con. Res. 27, calls for a bipartisan commission to study establishment of the museum. It has 29 cosponsors in the House including both Republicans and Democrats.

– Sam Eskenazi
Director, CNMAP