Feature photo by Mochileria Del Paso

You’ll have to get a second life to explore the virtual world of the Latino Virtual Museum (LVM), brought to you by the Latino Center of the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The first of its kind, the LVM is quite the cutting edge approach to the museum environment, utilizing the innovative Second Life technology, which is basically a multi-user, avatar-based, 3D virtual world environment.

As Latino Center Director Eduardo Díaz points out, there is currently no real designated Latino gallery at the Smithsonian, though they are looking to establish a national Latino museum in the D.C area. So while Díaz and his team are busy working on this significant project in the real world, you can fling yourself into cyberspace and access digitized images of Latino Smithsonian collections, and explore tropical habitats, plazas, waterways, a music lounge, and much more.

Once you join Second Life—a rather simple and amusing process during which you create your own avatar—you must also download the free Second Life Viewer software appropriate for your computer. The setup takes just a couple of minutes, and then you are brought to “Welcome Island” where you learn the basics of your new virtual playground—how to speak, walk, fly and of course, most important of all, teleport.

If you click on the Destination Guide, and then search within the Education category, you will find the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum listed on the second page of results. Click on it, and then teleport right in for an enlightening adventure in Latino history, culture and tradition.

I also stumbled across another intriguing pursuit for those who prefer their learning online: the Instituto Español, where you can enroll in Spanish classes of all levels. One teacher’s course schedule listed classes of no more than 4 students per class, with a cost of $5 per hour (you must purchase a minimum of 10 hours) for “normal” classroom learning, $15 per hour for private classes (minimum purchase of 5 hours), or 990 Lindens, the currency of Second Life (Linden Lab is the creator of Second Life), for a one hour role-playing event to a Spanish-speaking country within Second Life.

Of course, I had to find out what a virtual reality program meant by its “Real Life” category in the Destination Guide, and I discovered that most of the sites in this section are touristic replicas of cities around the world, including Guadalajara and Rio de Janeiro, where you can take guided tours, explore on your own, or party on the beach with your virtual friends.

But let it be known: living out a second life, let alone a first life, seems to be time-consuming and quickly addictive. To quote the wise Jamiroquai: “Virtual insanity is what we’re living in.”

Get your Second Life and enter the Latino Virtual Museum here.

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