El Museo Latino has been a cultural staple in Omaha for more than 20 years. What is lesser known, however, is how the museum came to be.
Magdelena Garcia is the founder of the museum. In the early 1990’s Garcia noticed there were only a few Latino museums in the entire United States.
“Growing up here in Nebraska, the [Latino population] numbers didn’t compare with California and Texas, but we had a growing population,” Garcia said. “Museums everywhere were looking to address the changing demographics. That’s when I started to think ‘there should be a museum in the Mid-west, and why not here?’”
Garcia had been doing marketing work in the corporate world for years. She said she would take vacations to visit museums and always volunteered at a local museum. Upon realizing she should start her own museum, Garcia said she left her job and pursued a master’s degree in museum studies.
According to the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino website, there are now 17 museums in the United States dedicated to Latino culture. In addition to the 17 museums, there are numerous national memorials, culturally relevant ranches and other significant sites related to Latino culture.
Patrons come from all over the world to see El Museo Latino. Elizabeth Noel is a teacher who visited the museum on a class field trip.
“I have never been to the museum before, and actually I have never been to South Omaha before.” Noel
said. “We’re really excited about all the information—the history.”
In a recent article, the New York Times said the idea for a Smithsonian Latino museum was born in the mid-1990’s.
“A task force said the Smithsonian had largely ignored Latinos in its exhibitions and should create at least one museum to correct that imbalance,” The New York Times said.
Mary Ruiz is from Spain. She said the educational opportunities offered by El Museo Latino are valuable.
“I have found a lot of talented people creating art here,” Ruiz said. “I also really like that all students can do their own art with the help and activities provided by the museum.”
Garcia encourages UNO students and faculty to come visit El Museo Latino.
“As an alumni, I invite you to come and see what we are doing,” Garcia said. “It’s not just for Latino students, it’s for everyone. For those of us who are Latino we may learn a little bit about our culture, but for non-Latinos you may gain a little bit of an appreciation.”
Garcia said if she lived to be one million years old she would never see everything there is to see in Latino culture.
El Museo Latino is currently running the arte plumeria/feather art exhibit, which runs through June 15.