David Diaz: Citizen Diplomat Works to Build Peace in Basque Conflict, Develop Curriculum in International Humanitarian Law
David Diaz admits to being one of those students who reads everything posted around California State University, Dominguez Hills. When he saw a notice from the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles,
which happened to be looking for students for academic placements in Spain, he seized the opportunity. His background in international security and conflict resolution got him a post for one year as North American language and culture advisor in a program administered by the Spanish Ministry of Education.
“Basically, it was citizen diplomacy,” Diaz recalls. “You go to a school and expose the students to American culture. While there, I was a resource to help them with their acquisition [of English]. But mostly, it was fielding a lot of questions about cultural misconceptions.”
Diaz had an option to renew the position for another year, but was eager to return to the United States to complete his master’s degree in negotiation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding (NCRP) at CSU Dominguez Hills. Upon coming home to San Diego, he began collaborating with the American Red Cross on a pilot program to establish collegiate and graduate level courses in International Humanitarian Law at colleges and universities in San Diego County.
“We live in an increasingly global society and we want to have competitive global citizens,” he says. “Right now, as it stands, there are very few Ivy League law schools that have these courses. This [curriculum] has actually changed the professional trajectory of a lot of the young people that have been exposed to it and many have ended up working in diplomatic posts in Switzerland as a result.”
Diaz is also currently working with professors and peers from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid on a project to educate youth of the Basque region of Spain in ways to peacefully resolve more than 40 years of conflict.
“[The Basque] would ideally like to have their own country,” says Diaz. “We decided that the best way to attempt to resolve this conflict is not through law enforcement or the use of intelligence and military, but through education.”
“Aggression is usually a result of people feeling frustrated, people not being able to achieve what they want,” he says. “We want to teach the children ways to assert themselves in an efficient way as opposed to being aggressors.”
Diaz presided over sessions on “Identity and Conflict” and “Post Conflict-Development” during modules of the 8th Annual Euro-Mediterranean Meeting held in Croatia and Italy.
He was also awarded a fellowship with the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and was trained in matters of public policy and biological threats by University of California faculty and representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“It’s basically sort of a two-way thing,” Diaz says. “They were training us in order to be able to assist local and federal authorities in the case of an emergency, while at the same time, they were picking our brains. It was an academic version of a focus group, if you would.”
“Everybody there, but me, was Ivy League: Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown. Then you had little old me from the CSU,” he quips.
Diaz, who is of Spanish and Italian heritage, describes his upbringing as having “a broad global background.” He was raised by his mother, who was a professor of arts, languages and ESL in the San Diego Community College District. Her family had immigrated from Southern Italy to Mexico and in order to provide her son with a classic European education, she sent Diaz to a Catholic school across the border from San Diego. Rubbing elbows with the sons and daughters of government officials, he was exposed to the diplomatic circles that his classmates’ parents moved in.
“I decided, ‘I like this,’” he says of the lifestyle that he witnessed. “You get to help people, which I’ve always been into, and have fun at the same time.”
Diaz received his bachelor’s degree in international security and conflict resolution from San Diego State University and his associate of arts degree in political science from Southwestern College. In addition, he has studied international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta, Cyprus.
Diaz’s research interests include the alleviation of poverty and strategic education as a means of countering and preventing terrorism, as well as globalization, and identity management. Fluent in Spanish, Italian, and French, he has also studied comparative law and Russian at Lomonosov Moscow State University and served as a student ambassador to Japan while at Southwestern College. He is the founding president of the CSU Dominguez Hills chapter of Mediators Beyond Borders.
Diaz chose CSU Dominguez Hills after meeting Dr. A. Marco Turk, chair of the NCRP program, while working at Institute of the Americas with the Information and Communication Technologies program and discussing their common interest in the Cyprus conflict. Diaz says that the diversity of the student population on campus provides him with a different learning environment than that of his alma mater, San Diego State.
“My ultimate goal is to go into global governance and continue to pursue my interests in poverty alleviation and strategic education, be it either with the State Department or the United Nations,” says Diaz, “The program has a lot to offer and I view this as a great opportunity.”
- Joanie Harmon