It is still hard to accept that he is so suddenly gone. Yet, I like to think that each time I look up towards the San Gabriel Mountains, there he is and will be, watching over us, enjoying the legacy of his great work to promote the arts spreading across the Valley through Nuvein in its events, projects, and board members.
– Javier Hernandez, Nuvein Advisory Board Member, April 2, 2011
(Man vs. Art podcast with Raul Aguirre Jr., The Vital Importance of Arts Advocates…)
Enrique de Jesus Diaz, the late founder and President Emeritus of the Nuvein Foundation for Literature and the Arts was a soul too great to be understood in a single sentence. This is simply because his life was a multi-layered story that continues to tell itself.
Enrique was many different things to many different people. For some, he was a passionate poet, for others, a steadfast friend. He was a dedicated mentor, devoted lover, accomplished dancer, loving husband, an ambitious entrepreneur, a family man, trusted business partner, a naturalized immigrant, a dutiful Navy seaman, an empowering publisher, approachable media personality, an ardent LGBTQ and minority advocate, an ingenious web designer, avid reader and writer, goodwill ambassador, charismatic philanthropist, a storyteller with a striking memory for detail, and a tenacious arts advocate.
Yet, to one and all, he was an open hand, mind, heart, ear, and soul. Enrique‘s life inspired the vision of limitless possibilities for which his organization, Nuvein, would become known.
Born in Tecomatlan, Jalisco, Mexico, Enrique immigrated here as a child with his parents and his four siblings. They lived in various parts of eastern Los Angeles, including City Terrace. A graduate of Roosevelt High School, Class of 1977, Enrique joined the Folklorico dance troupe while at the high school and, after graduating, performed with a professional dance troupe throughout the region. He also taught and choreographed Folklorico dances for youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1979, Enrique enlisted in the United States Navy, proudly serving on the USS New Jersey (BB-62), where he collaborated with like-minded servicemen to share written stories and essays. This group was the beginning of Nuvein Magazine, which in turn spawned the Nuvein Foundation for Literature and the Arts.
Nuvein Magazine began production in 1982, using a photocopy format and was distributed by hand and through the mail. After an honorable discharge from the US Navy, Enrique returned home to enroll at Cal Poly Pomona, earning his degree in 1992 in English Literature. All the while, Enrique was staying in contact and making new contacts for the relaunch of Nuvein Magazine online. In 1996, Nuvein Magazine made its debut on the web. This was the case up to the Fall of 2004.
During this time, Nuvein Magazine was available online and was also printed in anthology format and was one of the first online literary magazines on the World Wide Web. The writers who were part of Nuvein Magazine came from around the world. The magazine included voices from the community, ranging from entertainment to education. Enrique made a point of being inclusive, with authors from many backgrounds and experiences – men, women, gay, straight, a vast range of cultural and ethnic diversity. As a Mexican immigrant to the US and a gay man, Enrique had great empathy for marginalized and misunderstood human beings, those considered “outsiders” or “different.”
Enrique was never confined by convention, and often surpassed it in amazing and wonderful ways. This was never more true than with respect to his devotion to the love of his life and husband, Jeffrey Bickel. He and Jeff met in 1986 at KPFK radio in Los Angeles. Jeff was a staff member at KPFK, and Enrique got to know him when they worked together on “IMRU”, an LGBTQ radio magazine. Shortly thereafter, in 1988, he and Jeff made a lifetime commitment to each other. From the beginning, Enrique called Jeff his husband, even though much of the world did not recognize their relationship. Enrique, always a visionary, knew that marriage equality was on the horizon. In 2000, Jeff and Enrique became registered domestic partners and were married on June 21, 2008.
Enrique was a tireless mentor to high school, collegiate, and adult students. His extensive teaching experience includes a 23-year teaching position at Mt San Antonio College. In addition, he taught at United Education Institute, Pasadena City College, El Dorado College, Palladium Technical Acadmemy, and, at his own school, Digital Business and Design College, “DBD”. Enrique and Jeff founded DBD in El Monte as a private, vocational college providing degrees in computer technology. DBD served students and business professionals from the Greater Los Angeles area, and provided a technical education for careers in web design, information technology, networking, and graphic design.
With his educational projects, technical school, and Nuvein magazine so well-received, Enrique was encouraged to organize a non-profit arts organization, the Nuvein Foundation for Literature and the Arts. He believed that the foundation could offer literature and arts programs and performances to young people and adults who lived in the San Gabriel Valley region and in communities throughout Southern California. The goal was to increase exposure to arts and literature for those communities that had been overlooked and underserved. This process began in 2004 through a series of collaborations with local schools, libraries, community centers, and chambers of commerce throughout the San Gabriel Valley. From 2004 to the present, Nuvein has continued to offer arts and cultural programming throughout the communities of the region. In 2007, Nuvein became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with the help of the community and business leaders from various San Gabriel Valley cities, and established its home in El Monte, California.
Prior to his unexpected passing in March of 2011
led Nuvein to launch a series of workshops and arts education programs out of DBD, LA County Libraries, and local recreation centers in the region. His leadership also helped unite and support groups such as the SGV Cartoonistas, as well as award arts scholarships to students pursuing digital/graphic design, animation, dance and other disciplines. Additionally, he supported the establishment of two of Nuvein’s biggest annual events – Dia de Los Muertos in El Monte and the San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Expo. This as well as countless other arts and cultural events that provided lasting connections between communities and their resident creative individuals.
Forever remembered as “our storyteller”, Enrique is sorely missed by the countless lives he enriched through his mentoring, entrepreneurship, artist collectives, scholarships, fundraising, and leadership in community service. Despite his loss, Enrique ensured a lasting legacy that is carried on through the members of the Nuvein Foundation and through the important connections that are made to individuals and communities throughout the San Gabriel Valley and beyond as Nuvein’s mission continues on into the future.