Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating Hispanic Contributions to Foreign Policy and Development

More than 55 million strong in the United States, Hispanics are making a tremendous contribution to the fabric of America. As Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and a proud Puerto Rican, I join the country in celebration of the achievements and rich cultural heritage of Hispanics across the country. 

We have so much to celebrate. As President Obama said in his Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation this year, “Hispanic Americans have had a lasting impact on our history and have helped drive hard-won progress for all our people… their lasting achievements and devotion to our Nation exemplify the tenacity and perseverance embedded in our national character.”

I am proud of my heritage, and I am proud to have the opportunity to serve my country as acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and to have served previously as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. These accomplishments are not just my own -- they are the accomplishments of the entire Hispanic community.

I am personally and professionally dedicated to the advancement of Hispanics to the highest levels of the State Department and the U.S. government more broadly. I’ve seen firsthand how a diverse and representative Department of State workforce strengthens our ability to achieve key policy goals. Hispanics contribute immensely to not just our own country, but to our foreign policy and development work abroad.   

Throughout my career I have put these ideas into action. As a young lawyer, I faced gender- and ethnicity-related barriers, and I fought hard to overcome them. And as I advanced in my career, working at the Hispanic National Bar Association, the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission and later in the White House, I dedicated myself to sharing the lessons I learned with the next generation of Hispanic leaders. Creating opportunities for others, particularly from the Hispanic community, has been one of my most valued professional achievements.

Today, government-to-government relations are only part of the diplomatic picture, and we need to expand partnerships among the wide ranges of actors who are invested in the future success of the region -- including diaspora communities such as Hispanic-Americans.

In fact, our Bureau of Public Affairs works to build relationships with domestic stakeholders through an initiative called “EngageAmerica,” which seeks to capture and celebrate the work of Americans; and especially spotlight the critical contributions of diaspora communities across the country. 

As Secretary Kerry has said “Our diversity is a strength … In today’s interconnected world … it is also a strategic imperative. This era requires much more nimble institutions, more agile foreign policy. And part of that agility comes from engaging diaspora communities.” 

I couldn’t agree more, and as the head of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, I am working hard to encourage collaboration with Hispanic Americans as leading voices in promoting positive change. 

The Hispanic-American community exemplifies U.S. values of community service, and inspires others to confront global challenges and address issues of social and economic inclusion.  

When national emergencies and humanitarian crises emerge in the region, it is often the Hispanic community that steps up first with relief, volunteers, healthcare, schools, and more. And Hispanic Americans have been a driver of economic development, often taking the lead on emerging business opportunities by investing in the region.

If we harness the developmental and diplomatic potential of the diaspora and join it with our efforts to work together with regional governments to build a Hemisphere that is democratic, has a strong middle class, and is secure, then we will address regional challenges together, and we will prosper together. 

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs is hosting a series of events to honor the contributions of the Hispanic diaspora and encourage increased engagement, including a Foreign Policy Classroom event today and a webchat on Thursday. We look forward to building on our relationship with the diaspora community well beyond Hispanic Heritage Month through initiatives like the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) run by the U.S. Department of State and USAID. I’m interested in hearing your ideas on how all of us can work together to address a challenge or create an opportunity that would benefit the people of the Americas. I look forward to working with you!

About the Author: Mari Carmen Aponte serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte stands with students after U.S. embassy donates books and equipment to support the English program the University of El Salvador sponsors with different public schools. [State Department Photo]
October 11, 2016

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