Juan José Valdés, a child refugee from Cuba, relates how he became the cartographer of the National Geographic Society and produced its first map of Cuba in over 100 years."
Juan Jose Valdes
Juan is the official geographer of the National Geographic Society. He guides and assists the Map Policy Committee in setting border representations, disputed territories, and naming conventions.
Juan also serves as the director of Editorial and Research for National Geographic Maps, where his prime responsibility is to ensureaccuracy and consistency for all maps and map products.
Juan was born in Havana, Cuba, and spent time in Miami, Florida, as a
boy. He remembers coming to Washington, D.C., in winter 1963: "The first
thing that struck me was that all the trees had lost their leaves, and
it got dark very early. I thought that Washington was the ends of the
Juan stayed in the Washington area, where he studied geography and cartography at the University of Maryland in College Park. After college, he worked as a cartographer at the World Bank.
long, Juan found his way to the halls of National Geographic, starting
off as a typographer in the cartographic department in 1975. "In order
to master the craft of cartography, it was almost like a trade
apprenticeship; when you walked in the door, you were immediately put
into the typographic section, familiarizing yourself with the Society's
typefaces and sticking type on . . . overlays. Once you mastered that art—and it was an art, because it was done manually—after you mastered that, you could go into map production, research, or editorial," says Juan.
Juan found his cartographic niche in researching and editing maps, eventually working his way to a lead position as director for Editorial and Research.
his time at National Geographic, Juan has seen a lot of changes in the
way maps are produced and information is gathered. It's been the
rapidity of accessing information that's been the most amazing thing to
occur over the past 20 years," he says. "What took years, if not months,
to generate, you can now do it in days, if not hours.
then, no one blinked an eye if you had to get on a plane to go to the
source to get the information. Consequently, the time to produce a map
was a lot longer; a typical supplement map [usually published in National Geographic magazine] could take as long as a year. Now it can take five weeks or less."