As a child, Dr. Mariano Diaz-Miranda couldn't envision a future in higher education because he didn't see people like himself going to college.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Diaz-Miranda moved with his family to a Jewish neighborhood in New York City to escape the Cuban Revolution in 1957.
"I experienced culture shock for the first time. I missed the friendly neighbors who sat around telling jokes and stories on their front porches," says Diaz-Miranda. "The students and teachers called me Mario in school because they couldn't pronounce my name correctly."
Thanks to one teacher who believed in him, he was encouraged to apply to the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School. He was one of only four students from his school to be accepted. He was drawn to engineering, but dropped out his senior year.
"I kept getting passed over for engineering internships and jobs by white students," says Diaz-Miranda. "I left to find a different path."
He joined the U.S. Air Force as a machinist and got drafted into training pilots on flight instruments during the Vietnam War. After the war was over, Diaz-Miranda enrolled in college. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in history, was awarded a Fulbright research grant to study in Brazil, and went on to complete a doctorate in Latin American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
"I wanted to learn more about the history of our region. It's a story that needs to be told. This was Spain right here," he says as he points to the floor of his Riverside Campus office, "but that story disappears with the English expansion from the east pushing out people that were 'less than worthy.' I want individuals to understand that it's not just the Mayflower and the westward expansion; there was a whole civilization sitting here before that was developed."
He started teaching at Austin Community College, Southwestern University, and Huston-Tillotson University for the teaching experience while he was still in school.
In 1995, after teaching at ACC for eight years, Diaz-Miranda established El Centro, ACC's Latin American Studies Center, with fellow professor Dr. Terry Thomas.
"When Mariano and I co-founded El Centro, we pursued some very specific goals: to support and be a resource for Latinx students, to engage the local Latinx community, to foster intergenerational connections within the local Latinx community, to honor local Latinx history, and to build the enrollment necessary to make ACC a Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI)," says Dr. Thomas. "After we launched El Centro, under Mariano's leadership, and with significant support from ACC faculty, staff, and administration, El Centro helped to achieve these goals."
To better reach the community Diaz-Miranda wanted to serve, the center was relocated several times — from the Rio Grande Campus to Eastview and finally Riverside, where it sits today.
Diaz-Miranda introduced community cultural events such as Dia de la Familia, an interactive, family-friendly event that strives to build a college-going culture among the Hispanic community by educating them about ACC's programs and services in a celebratory atmosphere. El Centro also co-hosts an annual Diez y Seis celebration with the Center for Public Policy & Political Studies.
"I just want to tell the Eastside, little kids especially, to not be scared to walk onto college grounds because I remember how I was — you see the people, they're not like you. You wonder, 'Where am I? What is it I'm going to do here?'," says Diaz-Miranda.
In August 2019, after 33 years at ACC, Diaz-Miranda officially retired.
"I am in awe of Dr. Diaz-Miranda. He is a thorough academic scholar of the highest order. He is an ardent social activist who tirelessly works for equity, inclusion and social justice, and he has always gone the extra mile for his students," says Dr. Barbara Mink, ACC Board of Trustees and founding faculty member at ACC. "I consider it such an honor that he calls me his friend."
Diaz-Miranda will continue to live in Austin to spend time with his granddaughter and do some writing and traveling.
"If I leave any legacy behind, I want it to be a message that connects with our community. I want people to know that college is for everyone. This is something you can use, and this is something that can push you ahead and help you."
Below are some favorite memories from his colleagues and friends:
Samuel Echevarria-Cruz, Ph.D., Liberal Arts Dean: Social & Behavioral Sciences and Sociology Professor: I remember meeting Dr. Diaz-Miranda soon after being hired as a full-time faculty member. As we sat and talked, I marveled at the incredible experiences he had been exposed to, the challenges he had overcome and the power with which he advocated for Latinx students, faculty and staff. I knew right then and there that ACC was the right place for me. If they had hired Dr. Diaz-Miranda, a first rate scholar-teacher, then I would do my best to live up to that high standard from that point forward!
Richard Armenta, Ph.D., Associate Vice President & Dean of Student Affairs: For a Dia de la Familia event we decided to have a duck pond for children to "fish" for prizes. Of course, we could buy the equipment from a carnival vendor, but Dr. Diaz-Miranda said HE would design the equipment to include magnets on the poles and ducks so that children could "fish" out the ducks. We would use a large kiddie pool to hold the water. Well, on the day of the event to our surprise, all of the plastic ducks would only float upside down, never right side up. The magnets created an imbalance and the lines of the fishing poles got all tangled up. The design was seriously flawed. Neither of us thought to first pilot-test the fish pond. Although some children cried, all of them got a prize. I let Dr. Diaz-Miranda keep the ducks.
Yolanda Sanchez, Administrative Assistant to Dr. Mariano Diaz-Miranda: The first statement I can say about him is that he was a caring and a very fair professor to his students. Everyone has an open-door policy, but Dr. Diaz-Miranda was always there for those he cared for the most......his students. As far as my supervisor, he let me do my job without being micro-managed. That would make me strive to do the best I could in my duties. He was a gentlemen and a scholar and I feel that I made a true friend and his family embraced me as their own after I had a loss in my family. I will truly miss his presence and his tremendous sense of humor. It made my day.