Don Otilio Díaz, executive director of La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña, died peacefully on Monday, August 21, 2006. He was 75. Mr. Díaz had no children, but is survived here in New York City by a sister, a nephew, and many nieces and cousins.
A public memorial was held Wednesday, August 30 and Thursday, August 31 at the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center in East Harlem. Religious services were held Friday, September 1 at Saint Cecilia’s Church. Mr. Díaz was then buried in his hometown of Guayama, Puerto Rico.
Otilio Díaz was born 1930 in Guayama, near the southern coast of Puerto Rico. He earned a B. A. from the University of Puerto Rico and an M.S. in Educational Administration from Fordham University.
In Puerto Rico, Mr. Díaz worked as an elementary, junior and high school teacher. He also served with the Puerto Rican Department of Agriculture’s Administration of Social Programs for several years. In New York City, Mr. Díaz worked with the Migration Division of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as a migration specialist and as a supervisor of the agency’s education and community organization programs.
He then served as a program planner and proposal writer with the South Bronx Model Cities Program and as a school supervisor in charge of Bilingual Education for School District 10 in the Bronx and District 4 in Manhattan. Mr. Díaz also worked as an adjunct lecturer for the Department of Puerto Rican Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Mr. Díaz was a founding member of the Borinquen Lions Club and former president of Community School Board # 7 and the Pamela Torres Day Care Center. He served as a consultant to “Damas Unidas de America,” the Puerto Rican Forum, the Center for Urban Education and the Puerto Rican Folklore Festival, and was an honorary member of the Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York.
Throughout his career, Mr. Díaz regularly received pubic acknowledgement for his community service work and received awards from the Association of Puerto Rican Mayors, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the “Instituto de Puerto Rico” in New York City, the Hispanics Educators Association of the Bronx, the Great Council of Hispanic Organizations of New York City, the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club of the Bronx, the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, the Neighbor Association of San Sebastián Street in Old San Juan, and “Los Hijos del Viejo San Juan Association.”
In 1981, Mr. Díaz joined La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña, Inc. as its Executive Director. Over the next 25 years, he worked diligently to promote traditional Puerto Rican arts and culture, including folkloric dancing and music – and to welcome frequent visitors from Puerto Rico and other Latin American nations. Intensely proud of his heritage, Mr. Díaz was also instrumental in the agency’s acquisition of thousands of books and artifacts from and about Puerto Rico. As a result, La Casa is greatly appreciated by many in the Puerto Rican and Latino community.
The East Harlem and Puerto Rican community mourns the loss of Mr. Díaz and has already vowed to ensure that the work of La Casa continues.
About La Casa
La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña, Inc. was founded in 1981 by the late New York Assemblyman Luis Nine to preserve, enrich and disseminate the rich literary and cultural heritage of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.
[Formerly] located in the Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue, La Casa’s library is a prestigious research center with thousands of books, music, and movies highlighting Puerto Rican history and culture and hundreds of cultural and historical artifacts. Visited by educational leaders from across the nation, Puerto Rico and Spain, its Puerto Rican heritage archive is a prestigious research center open to the general public.
La Casa also functions as a familiar locale and home-away-from-home for many Puerto Ricans with a variety of cultural programs, including traditional music lessons and instructions on folkloric dancing and artisan crafts, along with annual field trips to Puerto Rico and to other countries.
As a cultural and educational institution, La Casa has developed into an effective community resource that enhances the knowledge and awareness of the Puerto Rican and Hispanic culture within the framework of a multi-cultural society through the implementation of cultural programs and activities. This beloved cultural institution has served the East Harlem community for over 25 years through the leadership and dedication of a volunteer staff led by Otilio Díaz and the loyalty of La Casa’s membership and audience.
As such, La Casa was awarded $225,000 by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation on January 25, 2005 to help underwrite critical staffing needs and to support the growth of the organization’s exhibition and archiving capacity.
Immediately prior to the UMEZ grant, the agency had relied on membership drives and fundraising events for the majority of its operating income. With the award, La Casa was able to purchase equipment and software for the preservation and archiving of its extensive collection. The grant also enabled Mr. Díaz to devote more time to future planning for the organization by converting his job into a paid position from a volunteer one.
The board of directors of La Casa has held several meetings to discuss the agency’s future, and will now begin moving forward to implement their Strategic Plan. For more information, visit: www.lacasapr.nyc.