Born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Raymond Feliciano is now the Heritage Program Manager for El Yunque National Forest. He loves going into the jungle and finding rock art sites or artifacts that haven’t been seen in centuries. His love of history an archeology take him across the island and beyond; he also enjoys exploring archaeological sites and ancient cities around the world and immersing himself in different cultures.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
My hardworking family, but especially my father. He had an adventurous, albeit difficult life, but always strived to do the best he could.
What do you like to do for fun in your free time?
I enjoy traveling, reading, going to the movies, paddle boarding, the theatre, drinking good Scotch and participating in my Freemasons Lodge.
What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I’m the Heritage Program Manager for El Yunque National Forest. I started working there in 2005.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I enjoy coming in contact with history through the artifacts and places that convey stories of the past. Puzzling together history through research and archaeological work is very satisfying as a scientifically creative endeavor. I also enjoy using historic sites to teach the stories of people and cultures that have lived in our forests and have shaped the place though history.
How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I started college as a pre-med student. Following that, I decided to pursue a degree in anthropology. After graduation I went to work as an archaeology aide, and later field archaeologist with the USDA Forest Service. I earned a graduate degree in Archaeology from the University of Manchester in England. After that, I went to the West coast and bounced around jobs within the federal government and the private sector until I returned to the El Yunque, where I’ve been Heritage Program Manager since 2016. Through it all I learned the benefits of discipline, flexibility and striving to do the best possible work. I also learned the importance of developing people skills and networking. Most of what we do relates to dealing with others. That is a lesson no one teaches you in school.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.
Looking beyond the recovery work following hurricane Maria in 2017, we have been running a shoestring project to restore Baño de Oro, the first recreation site that the Civilian Conservation Corps built at El Yunque in 1934. The site was originally a pool built inside a creek. Silting thorugh the decades have filled it to the brim, so we intend turn it into a wetland garden and restore the structures around it, turning the site into a scenic relaxation area and Civilian Conservation Corps interpretation site.
Why do you think your field is important?
Archaeologists and historians are custodians of the collective memory of peoples. We give back a voice to those that are long gone, we keep their memories alive by continually building bridges between our ancestors and current generations. In a way, we are the safe keepers of the roots of nations and humanity itself. A tree without roots is so feeble that the subtlest of breezes can topple it. So we try to safeguard those roots in an attempt to create pride and understanding among people.
What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?
It is hard sometimes to convey the importance of our heritage to people that do not understand the significance of it or fail to identify certain parts of humanity’s history as their own. Creating respect and understanding for others is a great challenge. That lack of understanding is translated into the destruction of historical sites, lack of interest in historic preservation, improper funding for conservation, the neglect of our shared history.
What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?
The Forest Service has a varied and flexible National Heritage Program. It allows the agency to protect our heritage and foster engagement with it. The program calls us to document, preserve, study and protect those sites and histories, as well as engage and educate the public through various programs and initiatives.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
It is a great privilege to live in a country that protects private lands and ensures access to them. I would like the public to become more aware of the importance of the interdependency between them and the land. Our forests provides us with life, air, water, raw materials and natural spaces where we can reclaim our sanity and connection to nature. Our national forests are the gift from the people to the people, and the Forest Service is their steward.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
Take advantage of opportunities such as internships and even volunteering. They make a great introduction to what we do in the agency. I also encourage people to start humble and slow, so they can understand the importance of their work and that of others. Work hard and be disciplined; it will pay off. Enjoy every moment outdoors.