In 2023, El Museo Latino is celebrating its 30th anniversary, having opened in the heart of historic South Omaha on May 5, 1993. The museum highlights Latino culture by hosting exhibits and educational programs that include films, workshops, art classes, ballet and traditional folk-dance instruction, and guided visits. Special events are part of the offerings, such as the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration in May and Hispanic Heritage Month activities which run from mid-September to mid-October.
Magalena Garcia, the Mexican-born founder and executive director of El Museo Latino, says the museum’s reach extends far beyond Nebraska. It is one of only 17 Latino museums in the United States. Those in Denver, Austin, and Chicago are the others closest to Omaha. Accordingly, El Museo Latino serves as a primary Latino cultural center for much of the Great Plains region.
El Museo Latino’s current site was constructed as a school over a century ago. It then served as the Polish Home—a Polish-American cultural center—for more than sixty years. In 1997, El Museo Latino moved to the building, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
The museum is undergoing a renovation, known as the “Elevating the Tradition” capital project, to expand and reconfigure its historic site. The work includes HVAC, electrical, and plumbing improvements. The project will also update and expand the El Museo Latino’s galleries, add classrooms, and provide additional studio and storage space.
Garcia has seen costs steadily increase since the project got underway—from initial estimates of $3.5 million to current projections of $9 million. Meanwhile, supply chain issues have caused delays. “The timeline…has lengthened plus the cost of things has continued to escalate,” she said. Even so, work is moving forward thanks in part to a $2.1 million grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED). The shovel-ready award was matched by funds Garcia raised, allowing her vision for the museum to take shape.
“Through exhibits, festivals and educational activities, El Museo Latino beautifully expresses the culture of Latinos living in Nebraska,” said DED Director K.C. Belitz. “The museum is a South Omaha treasure. DED is grateful to support the renovation of its historic space, which will grow the center’s influence in our state and throughout the Midwest.”
As part of its 30th anniversary, El Museo Latino is hosting an exhibit and programs for the Day of the Dead / Día de Muertos from October 7th through November 4th. It’s one of many highlights on the museum’s calendar this year.