BY SUSANNA SHARPE
PALOMA DÍAZ-LOBOS HAS MADE HER MARK on LLILAS Benson in a variety of job titles. Yet even her recent appointment as Associate Director of Programs only hints at the work that Díaz-Lobos accomplishes in the space of an academic year, or a semester, or even, perhaps, in a single day. From conceiving and planning scholarly events large and small, to organizing meetings and participating as a nonvoting member of the LLILAS Benson Executive Committee, to managing interns, maintaining LLILAS’s significant social media presence, and usually being available to troubleshoot a situation or crack a great joke, she is imprescindible—an essential member of the LLILAS Benson staff.
“I have occupied six different offices at LLILAS,” says Díaz-Lobos at the desk of her current office, a surprisingly calm space, dimly lit, with walls painted in a soothing sage-green. She arrived at the Institute of Latin American Studies—the storied ILAS—in 2001, during the semester when the institute changed its name to LLILAS in honor of a substantial gift from Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long.
In her early days at LLILAS, Díaz-Lobos managed the institute’s Center for Latin American Social Policy (CLASPO), which existed alongside several other centers devoted to environmental policy and indigenous languages (the still-active Center for Indigenous Languages of Latin America, or CILLA). The institute’s scholarly events were mostly driven by Mexico and Brazil, she explains, in contrast to the present, with events, such as the foro urgente, that focus on any area or issue in urgent need of attention, and conferences and lectures whose themes and geographical focus are driven by faculty expertise.
Díaz-Lobos’s path to her current job included managing the LLILAS Mexico Center and serving as assistant to Director Bryan Roberts. Along the way, she gathered the knowledge and expertise necessary to begin running the institute’s scholarly programming in 2009. Not content to be heavily invested solely in LLILAS Benson, Díaz-Lobos is social media coordinator for the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), secretary-treasurer for the Executive Council of the Center Directors Section of LASA, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP).
“I never met a person with a doctoral degree and had no connection to academia,” says Díaz-Lobos of her childhood in Valparaíso, Chile. “I grew up in a pre-globalized world, with geographical barriers, and under a dictatorship.” But her family were supporters of Salvador Allende, and this informed her critical view of the United States. She earned a master’s in international education and worked both at the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer and at the Secretaría General del Gobierno in Chile. “I never planned to live in the US or to learn English,” she says.
That would all change during carnaval in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where she met a US-American named Raúl Madrid, to whom she has been married for 26 years. (Madrid is a professor in the Department of Government at UT Austin. The couple was featured in a charming article in 2016 in the Daily Texan newspaper.)
Along with energy and heart, Díaz-Lobos brings institutional memory to her work at LLILAS. She has witnessed the organic growth of programs, the birth of the partnership between LLILAS and the Benson Latin American Collection, and has learned to be philosophical about institutional change: “Don’t be too attached; go with the flow and be flexible,” she advises.
Some of her proudest accomplishments are the LLILAS intern program; her creation of the graduate student network to combat the silos that develop in academia; the annual Austin Lecture on Contemporary Mexico; and the Lozano Long Conference, which in its inaugural year featured Ricardo Lagos (Chilean president from 2000 to 2006), and subsequently hosted Eva Longoria for a Latino Studies–themed conference.
But for all her investment in LLILAS Benson as an institution, and her passion about serving in various Latin American Studies organizations, Díaz-Lobos doesn’t hide the rebel at her core. She loves social media, she says, because it is “people taking control of the narrative, which forces us out of our comfort zone.” And because attention to social justice and human rights are at the core of LLILAS Benson student programs and scholarship, the outspoken supporter of Dreamers and Gun-Free UT has ended up right where she belongs.
Susanna Sharpe is communications coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and editor of Portal magazine.