Hispanic Heritage Month: Strengthening Diplomacy by Embracing Diversity

It was almost 10 years ago when I found myself surrounded by a room full of diplomats and polyglots in a war-room style office monitoring and analyzing the representation of our nations’ foreign policies in international media.  I saw this internship in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affair’s Rapid Response Unit as an amazing learning opportunity, but not much more. In my mind, I was going to spend those next 10 weeks contributing, as best as I could with my mediocre Spanish language skills, and then return to south Texas with a good story to tell my friends and family.  Fast-forward 10 years, and the story is much different than anticipated.  I returned home, but only to pack my bags and tell my family that I was returning to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career at the Department of State.

I’ve had an immensely gratifying career since taking this initial step, crossing back and forth between roles in public affairs and human resources. In these roles, I’ve traveled the country encouraging others to consider a career in foreign affairs. In my conversations with Americans in cities across the nation, I assured them that Department needs employees from all backgrounds. I have travelled to overseas missions to see my colleagues in action abroad contributing to global events that will someday be a part of history books. Throughout my career, I have met many brilliant, motivated, and committed individuals from all segments of society who -- like me -- want to contribute through public service. I have also encountered many people who already are making contributions, by protecting and promoting America’s interests in the world.

Our colleagues abroad advance ideals like democracy, human rights, and an active civil society. In a sense, it is part of my job to make sure the Department practices what we preach. It is in the Department’s best interest to demonstrate to the world that as the face of the nation is changing, so too is the face of diplomacy. I currently serve in a role that focuses on our people – covering issues like career development, inclusion, diversity, and engagement. I promote the idea that every person possesses a unique perspective of the world; we have different life experiences that affect how we identify and solve problems and have skills that can add value to any organization.  Its then in the responsibility of the organization to ensure the individual recognizes the potential of their unique contribution, gain a sense of belonging, and develop to reach their full potential.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, we recognize the accomplishments of those who came before us and contributed to the progress and development of our nation. We celebrate those leading the charge for parity and equity, and who help create a shared vision for the future of this country. My colleagues and I often refer to the Department of State as the “face of America to the world,” but the “face” of America is rapidly changing. Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group at 57 million. We currently make up 18 percent of the United States population and are projected to make up 28 percent of the population by 2050. On top of that, Hispanics are the youngest of the major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, with a median age of 28, and are completing higher education at an unprecedented rate, according to the Pew Research Center. It is important that these individuals learn about opportunities to represent the United States domestically and abroad.

I will never learn the backstory of how I was identified and selected, but I’ll be forever grateful for the individuals who recognized that I had something to offer. I didn’t study at a traditional foreign affairs feeder school, I am not a foreign policy wonk, and I didn’t have ambitions of a career in federal service.  So what could have caused them to pull my name of the hat?  If my selection wasn’t a random draw, perhaps the person who selected me had an understanding of the value of diversity and inclusion, in making our organization stronger and better-equipped in the future. Perhaps somewhere in their career they worked with fellow “Tejanos” like Ambassador O.P. Garza or Ambassador Cris Arcos and had a gut feeling about this applicant’s potential. Or, perhaps they believed, like I do, that anyone, when afforded the opportunity, can make meaningful contributions.

About the Author: Josué M. Barrera serves as the Department of State's Diversity Outreach Manager in the Office of Civil Service Human Resource Management.

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A headshot of Josue Barrera. [Photo Courtesy of Josue Barrera]
October 14, 2016

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