Sunday, March 8, 2009

Latino to head Smithsonian Center

From San Bernardino to the Smithsonian
Michel Nolan, Staff Writer 03/06/2009

More than 2,400 miles separate San Bernardino and Washington.

For Eduardo Diaz, though, the distance is the culmination of lifetime passions, a mission measured in more than miles.

In December, the 1968 San Gorgonio High School graduate was named director of the Smithsonian Institution's Latino Center.

For Eduardo, it's a great place to be.

"The Smithsonian is one of the most important cultural institutions the country has. What we're committed to here is our ability to be accessible to people in San Bernardino, the Inland Empire or wherever, to take exhibitions on the road or offer our virtual museums so if you can't come to Washington, you can at least have a virtual experience," Eduardo told me from his home in Mount Pleasant, D.C.

"It all boils down to two basic things - quality of the work, relevance to the mission and making sure our work is accessible," he says.

"It's a great place to work. I'm excited to be here and looking forward to the work ahead."

The "work ahead" encompasses a vast array of programs and projects celebrating Latino art and culture at the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum complex and research organization, composed of 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo.

"We have an incredible new secretary - Secretary Wayne Clough - who is energizing the Smithsonian and really committed to cultural diversity. The American experience is a very diverse experience, regardless of your cultural background," Eduardo says.

Locally, Eduardo, 58, attended Sterling Elementary School and Del Vallejo Middle School as well as San Gorgonio High before earning his bachelor's degree in Latin American studies at San Diego State and a law degree from UC Davis.

He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

His parents, Leno and Elisa, are retired San Bernardino City Unified School District teachers and were active in the community. Elisa, the first Latina elected to the San Bernardino school board, served on the board for a dozen years.

Richard Gonzalez, president of Sinfonia Mexicana, said the Diaz family has supported the arts in all of its forms.

"Both Leno and Elisa contributed significantly to San Bernardino culture," says Richard, a longtime family friend. "They are wonderful people and when they left San Bernardino in 1993, we had a big going-away party for them at the Radisson."

Before his appointment to the Smithsonian, Eduardo was executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M., the largest cultural center in the United States.

As director of cultural affairs for the city of San Antonio - prior to his New Mexico position - Eduardo co-founded the International Accordion Festival, a free outdoor music festival in San Antonio that he still keeps track of.

"Our focus is where do Latino cultures intersect with others. One of the beauties of being in this Latino cultural field is we are everybody," he says. "Everyone kind of converges in the Latino framework because we are European, we are indigenous, we are African, we are Asian, we are Jew, we are Christian, we are Muslim.

"As a Latino, you have to be aware of all those connections and respond to them."

According to Eduardo, the center is working to ensure there is more of a Latino presence at the Smithsonian.

In addition to the many exhibitions, there are a variety of programs, including Young Ambassadors and the Latino Museum Studies Program.

Another of the center's big projects is the Latino Virtual Museum, which the center will launch March 19.

"Part of our job is looking at these cultural connections," Eduardo says.

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