'I Am American': A Diplomatic Security Special Agent's Perspective on Diversity

3 minutes read time
Flags blow in a breeze near the the Bayonne Bridge, New Jersey connecting Bayonne to New York's Staten Island.
Flags blow in a breeze near the the Bayonne Bridge, New Jersey connecting Bayonne to New York's Staten Island.

'I Am American': A Diplomatic Security Special Agent's Perspective on Diversity

I was once asked, “What kind of American are you?” Well, my cultural heritage, language, and upbringing make me different, but I’m still American.  As a matter of fact, I’m like most Americans in that I’m an immigrant.

My family didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was ten years old, and I didn’t learn English until I was 11. I had no idea what chink meant when a high-school classmate called me that. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps when I was 17 while still a permanent resident and was eventually naturalized. But, in my heart, I truly became an American when I took the oath of enlistment and swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Even so, the drill instructors called me out during lectures on the Marine Corps’ feats at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where the First Marine Division broke out of an encirclement of Chinese troops. It made me think, wait, I’m an American. Why do they continue to point out my Chinese ancestry? When I was 24, I joined the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) as a special agent and was dumbfounded when a State Department colleague tugged at the corners of his eyes and sang, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, what are these?”

DSS Special Agent Chris Gu during his U.S. Marine days in the 1990s.(courtesy of Christopher Gu)

Things have improved for me since, and I now chair the DSS Diversity Working Group. It’s no secret that the senior leadership in DSS lacks minorities. However, DSS Director Bill Miller -- now DS Acting Assistant Secretary-- is doing something about it. Recognizing the need to increase diversity and inclusion throughout the bureau, he established the working group in 2015. 

Since then, DSS has been stepping up diversity recruitment initiatives and affinity group engagements. We recently took a climate survey, in which all DSS employees were encouraged to participate. We’re also working to collect better statistical data on recruitment and retention so we can analyze the information and identify areas for improvement. In addition, we’re working with other federal agencies to establish internal and external benchmarks within the federal government.

Recently, DSS’ efforts were recognized as a Departmental best practice. But there’s still much work to be done. We cannot do it without the full support of DSS senior leaders and the active involvement of all DSS employees. 

Every race, creed, and ethnic group sacrificed to build the United States of America. Asian Pacific history, just like European history, Black history, Hispanic history, etc., is an integral part of the American story. We all came to this country at different times, but our contributions have resulted in building this great nation.

Now, if you really want to know what kind of American I am, I’ll tell you - I’m a public servant and a New Yorker! Yo, fuhgeddaboudit!

About the Author: Christopher K. Gu serves a Supervisory Special Agent in the Diplomatic Security Service at the U.S. Department of State.

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