September 9, 2022

Connecting the Dots at Historic Sites with Omar Eaton-Martinez

In July 2022, the National Trust for Historic Preservation welcomed Omar Eaton-Martinez as the new senior vice president of historic sites. In this role, Eaton-Martinez leads the work of the National Trust to expand the stewardship, relevance, and sustainability of the organization's 27 historic sites.

Eaton-Martinez brings with him a breadth of experience focused on issues related to equity and justice at historic sites—most immediately through his past position as the assistant division chief, historical resources for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He has also played key leadership roles in racial equity organizations such as Museums and Race: Transformation and Justice and Museum Hue, and in 2019 served as an American Alliance of Museums Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion (DEAI) senior fellow.

In addition to issues related to diversity and inclusion, his particular research interests include Afro Latinx identity in museum exhibitions, Diversity and Inclusion in museums and cultural institutions; Hip Hop history and culture; and public history projects centering blackness in Puerto Rico.

We asked Eaton-Martinez a few questions to learn more about his work and his vision for the future for the National Trust’s historic sites.

Two men standing in front of a modernist home.

photo by: The Glass House

This fall Omar Eaton-Martinez began to visit the historic sites in the National Trust portfolio. Here he is at The Glass House with Executive Director Greg Sages.

What are you most excited about in your new position as senior vice president for historic sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation?

I am excited about the opportunity to support the sites in community engagement, JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion)-focused interpretation and helping them to develop a workplace culture that can sustain this work for generations to come.

What do you see are some of the biggest challenges facing historic sites and the cultural heritage field today?

One of the biggest challenges facing historic sites and the cultural heritage field is helping people understand the interconnectedness among the past, present, and future. Traditionally, we have perpetuated the historicizing of our stories by creating singular narratives that do not connect to today’s issues. Many of today’s societal woes have a legacy—where past events have a real present day impact and inform how we plan for the future. Our clarion call as historic preservationists, public historians, and museum professionals is to connect the dots by providing immersive experiences that disrupt singular histories so that we can tell the full American story.

What inspires you, or brings you hope, about the field today?

The unapologetic activism by this current generation of freedom fighters (i.e. Museums & Race, #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson and Museum Hue). Dr. Cornel West said it best when he stated, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice allows us to see the humanity in one another. Watershed moments like achieving structural parity with the Montpelier Foundation gives me hope that those of us who are on the margins are being seen.

A man standing in front of a red awning with the words Tenement Museum on it.

photo by: Omar Eaton-Martinez

Eaton-Martinez at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City.

A man standing in front of a model of the statue of a seated Lincoln at Chesterwood.

photo by: Omar Eaton-Martinez

Eaton-Martinez at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachussetts.

How will your work at the local level inform your work at the National Trust?

My experience working locally taught me the importance of cultivating true partnerships, partnerships that are mutually beneficial and not rooted in paternalism. This is not easy because it cuts against the traditions of how organizations typically partner with one another. It takes a lot of time which also is disruptive to the high-paced environment we have all been taught to work in.

What is your favorite historic site?

The Ancón de Loíza, in Puerto Rico, is a nonprofit community-based organization that works on the preservation of the historic space where the old Ancón de Loíza crossed the Rio Grande for the enjoyment of all Puerto Ricans and their visitors. The site works on the development and sustainability of Loíza through culture, its relationship with water, and the Rio Grande de Loíza. Additionally, they work towards the creation of micro enterprises for the young people of Loíza.

Loíza is one of the most culturally rich municipalities in Puerto Rico. It has been referred to as “The Capital of Traditions,” and it’s home to some of the most iconic African-influenced traditions that make up Puerto Rican culture. With the largest population of Black residents on the Island, the city serves as a pillar of the Island’s heritage, culture, community, and character.

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While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

@priyastoric

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