Hispanic Heritage Month 2016: Building a More Diverse and Inclusive Future at the State Department

Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs until October 15, serves as a time to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and to celebrate their heritage and culture. This year’s theme is Hispanic Americans: Embracing, Enhancing, and Enriching America. As the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, a proud Latina, and a civil servant at the State Department, I see this month as an opportunity to discuss the importance of creating a more diverse and inclusive future at the Department.

According to State Department diversity statistics, six percent of State Department employees identify as Hispanic. I think we can all agree that six percent is a low percentage, especially when U.S. Census suggest approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic and Latino. In addition many Hispanic and Latino Americans have characteristics desired by the Department, such as language skills and cultural adaptability. Diversity is America’s strength and our foreign and civil service should look as diverse and multicultural as the United States.

Although, Hispanic and Latino Americans only make up six percent of the State Department, as a group we have been contributing to and aiding U.S. foreign policy for decades. Today, we serve as ambassadors tasked with preserving bilateral relationships, consular officers assisting American citizens overseas, press officers communicating U.S. foreign policy to diverse audiences, economic officers negotiating trade policies, and foreign affairs officers monitoring human rights issues, among many other essential positions and jobs.  While acknowledging the achievements of Hispanics and Latinos today, we cannot forget the accomplishments of the trailblazers that opened many doors for us. 

In 1977, Ambassador Mari-Luci Jaramillo became the first Hispanic American female ambassador when she served as the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1977-1980. She was the daughter of a shoemaker in New Mexico and went from poverty to living the life of a diplomat. I mention Ambassador Jaramillo because I see many parallels between her life and my own. She never aspired to be an Ambassador nor did she initially understand what they did. However Ambassador Jaramillo achieved success by drawing upon her personal experiences with poverty and discrimination, while always adhering to the values her family instilled in her.

State Department civil servant Vicktery Sanchez speaks to a group of students as part of the Department's Hometown Diplomat program. [State Department Photo] 

Nearly 40 years later, I am the daughter of grocery store owners, who grew up aware of foreign policy and international affairs, but never truly understood what the State Department did, much less envisioned myself working here. I never imagined that as a woman and Latina, I would have a role in contributing to U.S. foreign policy. Like Ambassador Jaramillo and I, there are many Hispanic and Latino Americans still unaware of the ways in which they can contribute to U.S. foreign policy. In this way, Hispanic Heritage Month is an wonderful opportunity to reach out to Hispanic and Latino communities around the country. I encourage those in the foreign affairs profession to attend educational, cultural, and community events to speak with these communities and I encourage Hispanic and Latino Americans to consider how their heritage and culture would be an asset to the foreign or civil service.

It is important to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans, but we also need to make sure we make them a part of our future. By celebrating our unique differences and acknowledging our shared interests, together we can begin to shape a more diverse and inclusive future at the U.S. State Department.

About the Author: Vicktery Sanchez serves in the Office of International Media Engagement in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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A photo of State Department employee Vicktery Sanchez at the Harry S. Truman Building in Washington, D.C. [State Department Photo]
Posted by Vicktery Sanchez
October 13, 2016


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