Omar Eaton-Martínez, M. Ed.,
Intern & Fellows Program Manager, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
You have a very unique family background that was highlighted in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Can you elaborate on your family’s history and how it landed in the museum?
Before I was with the Smithsonian, I worked for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger. There I met Dr. Noelle Trent, who at the time was a fellow Park Ranger at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. She is currently the Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. We became friends and both transitioned at similar times to work at the Smithsonian Institution. She worked at the National Museum of African American History & Culture as a Project Curator and I at the National Museum of American History in my current position as Program Manager. Noelle was tasked to help curate the “Great Migration” section of the Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation exhibition. Her and Dr. Spencer Crew, Lead Curator (and former Director of the National Museum of American History) were looking for ‘Caribbean Migration’ stories for that section of the exhibition. Through past conversations with Noelle she knew that my family came from Puerto Rico and asked if she could interview my father who was among the first cohort of Puerto Ricans recruited by NASA to work as an Engineer. She interviewed him, she loved his story and then she presented her findings to Dr. Crew who then emailed me asking for permission to use the story and to see if I had any photos to share to go along with the narrative. Of course, being the de facto family historian, I did! They even credited the pictures in the exhibition as the “Eaton Family Archives” which I had never heard of until then, but thought it sounded great!
Statistically, there are fewer African American men than women in the museum professional. Why do you believe there are few African American males?
I think there is a lack of career awareness for African American men in terms of what the museum/public history field can offer. We as black men who are in the profession need to be more consistent with how we mentor young men. Currently, the Smithsonian African American Association is working on addressing this issue with an initiative called Access U. It’s in early development, hopefully we will have more to share on that in the near future!
What book are you reading currently?
The book that I consistently read is the Bible. Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Other than that I am currently reading Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s “Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California” for Comparative Race & Ethnicity class from my doctoral program.
What is your Pet Peeve?
When institutions say that diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion are important but don’t provide any resources to make it happen. The old saying is “…if you have 20 priorities you have none”. Our institutions need to make a definitive decision whether or not this is a priority or not.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you became a museum professional?
In the earlier part of my professional career I had come across museums. When I was an Education & Outreach Specialist for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Sun-Earth Connection I was tasked with creating an informal educator conference where I engaged museum educators to participate back in 2005. As a Park Ranger, I was ‘detailed’ to work intermittently in the Office of the National Museum of the American Latino, which managed the affairs of the Commission who was charged with creating a report to give to the White House and Congress on the feasibility of establishing the National Museum of the American Latino. Those two experiences helped me learn about the wonderful work that is done in museums to bring transformative experiences to its visitors and engage with local communities.
What do you see has a challenge for young museum professionals in the industry?
The biggest challenge is for young museum professionals to truly understand how diverse museums, galleries, archives and cultural centers are in the United States and throughout the world. I call this a challenge because in order for young professionals to maximize their professional opportunities for growth they must cast a wider net that reaches beyond the Smithsonian and the National Park Service. In many cases the skills that are developed in the museum field are transferable in other fields like K-12, higher education and companies/organizations that may have a small museum as a part of their larger institution.
Omar Eaton-Martínez recruits and manages 200+ interns and fellows who support a wide range of Museum projects. He promotes intern/fellows programs to colleges and universities and other institutions. Omar serves as the museum liaison for pre- and postdoctoral fellows as well as other academic appointments. In an effort to create awareness about internship and fellowship opportunities he conducts presentations to higher education communities, partners and various stakeholders with the purpose of increasing access to the Smithsonian. Omar develops partnerships with educational institutions and non-governmental organizations to ‘build community’ around an inclusive American narrative. He was involved in creating a briefing paper on diversity and inclusion at the museum to the Director John Gray. Exercising his skills in outreach he assisted in the recruitment for Latino curators for the museum. In the spirit of collaboration and community building, Omar participates in the following committees NMAH Committees: Diversity Advisory Council; Peer Awards Committee; Strategic Planning Committee (Co-chair of Education Subcommittee); SI Committees: Latino Working Committee (Deputy Chair); Office of Fellowships & Internships Diversity Working Group; Federal Committee: STEM Education (Underrepresented Communities). His research interests are Afrolatinidad/Afrolatinoness in the United States; Hip Hop history, culture and education and Diversity and Inclusion. He is one of the organizers and the creator of the Smithsonian Career Center Conference. Omar came to the Smithsonian from the National Park Service (NPS) where he worked as an Interpretive Park Ranger on youth programs and diversity initiatives. While he also worked at NPS he did a detail in the Office of the National Museum of the American Latino Commission. In addition, Omar has experience in STEM as an Education & Public Outreach Specialist for NASA. He also was a K-12 teacher in New York City and Washington DC. He has been married for 16 years and has four children. He has a B.A. in African American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park and a M.Ed. from the American Intercontinental University. He is a third year doctoral student in American Studies at University of Maryland, College Park.