Curator of Linguistics

Gabriela Pérez Báez wearing a shiny black shirt with a green checked collar, smiling behind a bingo card with images of plants. Smithsonian photo by Jennifer Renteria.
Gabriela Pérez Báez showing a bingo game featuring the native plants and their names in the endangered Diidxazá language spoken in the South of Mexico. Smithsonian photo by Jennifer Renteria.

Gabriela Pérez Báez grew up bilingual in Spanish and English in Mexico City, Mexico. From the time she was younger, she was attracted to languages and what they convey about their speakers. Initially, she became a graphic designer, but then realized that it was linguistics (the study of languages) that truly interested her. She changed careers, and went on to earn a PhD in Linguistics at the University at Buffalo. She focused on a community of Zapotec speakers in Oaxaca and studied how migration, between their community and Los Angeles, CA, was affecting the vitality of their language. By the time she finished graduate school, Gabriela had developed her enduring interest in languages that are spoken by small communities and are at risk of going silent.  

Gabriela became a Curator of Linguistics at the National Museum of History in 2010. She immediately began her involvement with the Recovering Voices Initiative, which seeks to contribute towards sustaining the world's linguistic diversity. Through collaborations, Recovering Voices fosters research on endangered languages, and engages communities in language revitalization efforts. Gabriela's native Mexico has tremendous linguistic diversity, but less than half the languages spoken 500 years ago are still spoken. The loss of a language is a much greater loss than just the word meanings, as every language encodes the history of a community and its relationship to the local ecosystems. Gabriela continues to work with Zapotec communities in Mexico to document and revitalize their languages.