By Claudia Zequeira
Listening to her grandfather’s stories in his garden in Puerto Rico, where every rock in it had a story attached to it, is how Carmen Laguer Diaz’s love of anthropology was born.
And in many ways, that’s what Carmen, part-time faculty, anthropology, often does as an anthropologist today, a practice that she says has enabled her to “make the most sense of the world.”
As a scientist of human behavior and human societies, she has been involved in several projects in Puerto Rico.
The most recent, the Proyecto Arqueológico del Suroeste, involved archaeological and historical research of one of the driest parts of the island and the Caribbean in order to better understand human interaction with the environment. After Hurricane Maria hit, the project expanded to include a compilation of oral histories of Puerto Ricans displaced by the hurricane in Florida and on the island.
An earlier dig, during which her team used hand picks to get at artifacts, took her to a ceremonial center built by Puerto Rico’s inhabitants between 900-1200 AD.
At Valencia College, and since she began here eight years ago, Carmen has taught courses, which include Introductory Anthropology, Introduction to the African American Experience, Introduction to Archaeology, Latin American Humanities and Cultural Anthropology.
And Carmen has done her share of adventuring at Valencia, where she has also instilled a passion for anthropology in her students. Anthropology is very approachable to all students, she says.
“In classes we usually have conversations that lead to students getting excited about something in anthropology, since it is so embedded in every part of our daily lives,” said Carmen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the Universidad de Puerto Rico, as well as a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Florida, where she also taught courses previously.
She is most proud of having encouraged some of her students to participate in the Orange County Historic Cemetery Recording Project, an effort that involved conducting research in the Beulah Cemetery, in Winter Garden, but now extends to other parts of Florida. As a result of the experience, some of her students then went on to major in anthropology.
Still, Carmen, who has published articles in numerous publications and has participated in multiple archaeology research projects, is humble about her work.
“I feel the credit goes to the students … I feel like I have been facilitating the students to do it,” she said.
Carmen has also strengthened ties between the College and the Florida Public Archaeology Network by establishing a Service Learning partnership with the organization, which does excavations, 3-D modeling and museum exhibits, among others. Through it, students can now do a boot camp with the group to learn anthropology field work techniques.
Last year, she also helped start the Student Anthropology and Sociology Society Club for students interested in these fields.
“We hold informal conversations on different social issues,” said Carmen of the club, adding some of the topics they have covered include the impact of hip-hop on African American identity, globalization and the unethical treatment of workers, and sustainability.
“We are currently trying to do a garbage audit and determine how successful [campus] recycling is,” said Carmen. “For that, we need to rely on archaeology techniques.”
Her students’ engagement, she said, is most inspiring, and one reason she loves works at Valencia. She also loves the collaborative environment in her division and discipline.
“I’m very lucky with my current division and with the friends that I’ve made,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we don’t agree on, but a lot more things we do agree on, especially when it comes to our students,” said Carmen.
Valencia, she said, is not only a place that’s “deeply embedded” in the community, but should strive to be a place where “people can come and exchange ideas. I am a strong advocate for this,” adding that it can be challenging as a part-time professor to be actively engaged and feel heard.
“I know we can do better and we should be happy to know that we have work to do and that we can do this work together. We should always strive to be better and do better.”
In her free time, Carmen loves to watch sci-fi movies, play video games, paint and read.
“I read a lot,” she said. “I’m usually jumping from book to book.”
Carmen also translates documents from Spanish into English for the University of Florida Press.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.