Museum of the American People
The ASF is proud to be a member of the Executive Committee representing the American Scottish community in this major undertaking that is now underway to bring the United States a Museum for the American People.
As Alan L Bain, President Emeritus, explains, this is an opportunity for Scottish Americans to recount their legacy. The contributions of Scottish immigrants are often lost in the forest of early American history. "They're not really recognized as Scottish, but as Americans" Bain says.
By Rebecca Cooper : December 5, 2013
ONE MAN'S DREAM OF A MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
Sam Eskenazi still wants to tell the story of Americans, from the country's earliest inhabitants to its most recent immigrants, in the Museum of the American People, a new museum near the National Mall in Washington.
The former Holocaust Museum communications director has a vision for a place that tells the stories of the many waves of immigrants who formed this country. His vision unfolds in four chapters: The First Peoples Come (Pre-1607); The Nation Takes Form (1607-1820); The Great In-Gathering (1820-1924); and And Still They Come (1924-present).
Eskenazi's been working for the past few years trying to convince Congress to create a commission to study the establishment of the museum — which could cost up to $500 million — but it's been slow going. He's hopeful, however, that there's new momentum behind the effort.
"This country has the most amazing story of all, and this will be the first museum to tell that story," Eskenazi said during a visit to Washington last month to generate support for his idea.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced a resolution in 2011 to create the museum, but it never came to a vote. Moran introduced a similar bill this past spring, this time with more than two dozen co-sponsors from Congress's many ethnic caucuses. Eskenazi has been working to secure the support of more co-sponsors in order to hit a "critical mass" of support for a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee this spring.
There's also potential in attaching a resolution to create a museum study commission to an immigration reform bill, Eskenazi believes, since the museum will focus on so many Americans' immigration stories.
The museum could be situated at one of five available sites the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service have offered up for potential cultural development. Eskenazi's preferred choice is the Banneker Overlook at the south end of L'Enfant Plaza. Other options include the Smithsonian's Arts & Industries building, the building that currently houses the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service office and the Liberty Loan site on Maine Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets SW.
Eskenazi disputes the notion that a museum dedicated to the history of the American people is redundant, even though there are museums that exist (the American History museum) or are being built (the National Museum of African American History) that would tell parts of the whole story.
"The National Museum of American History would be the only redundancy right now, and that's in a different context," he said. "This would be in the context of everyone coming here."
Eskenazi's pitch since the beginning has been that Smithsonian museums are "artifact-based," while this would be a true storytelling museum.
"The story will be dramatic and compelling. Everyone wants to see their own story," he said. "And international visitors would flock there as well to see how did everyone in the world come and make this country."
Eskenazi's own story typifies that of many second and third-generation immigrants. He grew up as part of a community in Seattle of Spanish-speaking Jews that emigrated to the U.S. from the island of Rhodes. He served in the U.S. Army in the 1960s before working a variety of public affairs and communications jobs in both the private and public sectors. He's retired from the U.S. Treasury Department in 2007 and now lives in New York.
He's also realistic about the fundraising challenge; he imagines approaching corporations, individuals or maybe even foreign governments for contributions. Eskenazi hasn't started fundraising in earnest yet, but he's put together a coalition of 155 organizations across the country that support his idea.
"We will definitely be seeking significant gifts in the $1 million to $10 million range, from both individuals and corporations," Eskenazi said.
RELEASE: February 27, 2013
Progress Update: White House Meeting, Congressional Resolution
Director, Coalition for the National Museum of the American People
RELEASE: January 27, 2012
UPDATE AND 2012 PLANS
Director, Coalition for the National Museum of the American People
New America Media, News Report, Khalil Abdullah, Posted: Feb 27, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. --“Don’t we already have something like that?” This is the question Sam Eskenazi says he hears most often about his dream to build the National Museum of the American People. And his somewhat surprising answer is, “No.”
Eskenazi, who started drafting his proposal in 2007, envisions “a scholarly-driven” museum on or near the National Mall “to tell the stories of all the peoples who have come to this land.” Its motto would be America’s “E Pluribus Unum”-- “From Many We Are One.” Its mission is to document how America was populated during its distinct eras of immigration and internal migration from earliest times to the evolving present.
“The Smithsonian is one of the great institutions of our country, with some of the most spectacular artifacts in the world,” Eskenazi explains, citing perhaps the best-known American museum. But he sees his proposed museum as complimentary to the Smithsonian and similar institutions, serving a different role as a narrator of each people’s history, origins, arrival, movement, settlement and subsequent challenges in a new land.
His idea is not a novel one, Eskenazi says, but he is inspired by the success of the museums of America’s two neighbors, institutions devoted to the theme of their respective people’s origins. “Canada and Mexico both have major museums in their capitals that are each nation’s most visited museums,” Eskanzi notes. Therefore, he expects the coalition of over 126 organizations now supporting the initiative to continue growing as the project gains momentum.
Nguyen Ngoc Bich, for example, board chair of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans, joined other backers at a February press conference calling for a commission to study the best strategy to bring the project to fruition. The Vietnamese, who started arriving in the United States in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, now, number 1.7 million and are the fourth largest community of Asian Americans, Bich explains.
Working for the establishment of the National Museum of the American People will not be Bich’s first big effort at educating the public about the Vietnamese experience in America. His organization contributed to the 2007 launch of “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon,” an exhibit that last December concluded a successful four-year tour across the country as part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. “It’s important for us to pass on to the Vietnamese American youth the consciousness about their heritage,” Bich says of the importance of the proposed museum.
New York’s Ellis Island or California’s Angel Island do not capture the story of Vietnamese Americans and other immigrant groups that followed previous immigrants that were processed in these sites. But representatives of America’s earlier immigrant groups also are enthusiastic about Eskenazi’s objective. His coalition includes Irish Americans, represented by the Ancient Order of Hiberians in America, and the German American Heritage Foundation, whose president, Thomas Siendenbuehl, said, “We Germans are very impatient, we couldn’t wait,” describing the German American Heritage Museum’s March 2010 opening in Washington. Despite German Americans having their own facility, Siendenbuehl says Eskenazi’s museum “is long overdue--you have to understand the many elements that form the union.”
Scottish Americans also see an opportunity to recount their legacy. Because of their relatively long presence as immigrants, the contributions of Scottish immigrants are often lost in the forest of early American history, explains Alan Bain of the American Scottish Foundation. “They’re not really recognized as Scottish, but as Americans,” Bain says. It’s an irony that today’s many immigrants would welcome. There are Armenians, Chinese, Koreans and Turkish Americans in the coalition. African American organizations are advocates, even with the National Museum of African American History due to open in 2015. The same goes for Native Americans, despite the existence of the National Museum of the American Indian, and Latino supporters, though there is an ongoing effort to get Congressional funding for the National Museum of the American Latino.
Eskenazi’s current focus is to forge a bipartisan Congressional coalition to introduce a resolution in May for setting up the Presidential commission. He will appeal to what he estimates as “more than 40 minority caucuses” in Congress. There are five potential locations for the museum--which would include bookstores and restaurants--including the [Benjamin] Banneker Overlook, a five-acre site that could dovetail with the D.C. government’s plans for a major anchor attraction to draw tourists to the city’s now undeveloped waterfront near the National Mall.
As to the museum becoming a part of the Smithsonian, Eskenazi would leave that matter to the commission. If the federal government donates a site, Eskenazi believes that foreign governments would be the primary funders of the construction costs, estimated at $500 million. He hopes the project will engage someone with the “stature of a Colin Powell or a Madeline Albright” to spearhead funding solicitations to other countries.
The retired Eskenazi spent six years as director of public information at the Holocaust Museum before its opening and two years afterwards. That experience informs his vision of a similar documentary filmmaker’s approach that will convey the great American narrative. With the museum’s genealogical center, permanent collections, traveling exhibits and other offerings, Eskenazi expects droves of American schoolchildren and foreign tourists to descend on the nation’s capital. “Everyone is going to want to come," he said, "and see their story and learn about others.”
Visit the web site at www.nmap2015.com