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.

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  • This video was filmed on April 13, 2012 as part of the National Geographic Live! Lecture series at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.

    As National Geographic's official geographer, Juan José Valdés guides and assists the Map Policy Committee in setting border representations, disputed territories, and naming conventions for National Geographic. Through his role as National Geographic's Map's director of editorial and research, Valdés is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and consistency of its maps and map products.


    • Introduction and early life in pre-revolutionary Cuba (start-02:52 min.)
    • How Valdés became a geographer (02:53-04:20 min.)
    • The Cuban Revolution (04:21-05:40 min.)
    • La Coubre explosion and the importance of Cuba (05:41-06:19 min.)
    • Destroying the "Macy's of Havana" (06:20-07:13 min.)
    • Bedtime stories, the Bay of Pigs, and kids leaving Cuba (07:14-09:35 min.)
    • Immigration to the United States (09:36-10:34 min.)
    • Lost in Miami (10:35-11:52 min.) 
    • How do you make a map? Creating a new map of Cuba (11:53-15:12 min.)
    • News and new administrative divisions (15:13-16:23 min.)
    • Editing, finalizing, and publishing (16:24-18:36 min.)


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  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    bathymetric data Noun

    information on the depth of the ocean, lakes, or other bodies of water.

    bathymetry Noun

    measurement of depths of bodies of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: bathymetry
    cartographer Noun

    person who makes maps.

    cartography Noun

    art and science of making maps.

    Cuban revolution Noun

    (1959) revolt that led to the overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.

    Cuban sandwich Noun

    sandwich made with pork, ham, and cheese.

    map Noun

    symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: map
    relief Noun

    the difference in elevation between areas of a specific region.

    topography Noun

    the shape of the surface features of an area.