Diversity and Service in Diplomacy – A Distinctly American Story

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Donald Yamamoto speaks at a press conference in Chad during his 2006 tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.
Newly Appointed Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto.

Diversity and Service in Diplomacy – A Distinctly American Story

Diversity and service have had a lasting impact on my career as these ideals have become increasingly important to the work of the U.S. Department of State. In 1980 when I joined the Foreign Service, I was the only Asian-American in a class almost 40 new officers. More than 30 years later, I am glad to see the face of the Foreign Service is becoming more inclusive and representative of the United States.

The face of public service is also getting younger. Today, over 60 percent of Foreign Service officers have fewer than 10 years of service. As today’s increasingly young workforce works to advance U.S. interests, they are learning the tools of the trade against the backdrop of a highly complex security environment. This dynamic is similar to the dilemmas I faced throughout my career, as I led U.S. peace efforts in Eastern Congo, played a key role in the long border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea that threatened regional security, and served as human rights officer in Beijing, China during the tumultuous Tiananmen Square crisis in 1989.

Each Foreign Service officer brings a unique background -- a distinctly American story -- that helps contribute to making the U.S. diplomatic corps one of the most effective and innovative Services in the world. 

My story includes Japanese parents who survived World War II, other family members went to relocation camps in the United States, and other family members joined the famed 100th / 442nd Battalion fighting for the U.S. Army in Europe. The story of my family is truly an American story and it shaped my perspective and approach to diplomacy as I served around the world.

I recently served as a senior advisor on personnel reform. I had the opportunity to help highlight the strength that lies in our diversity. I enjoyed helping develop our Department’s talent to get the most out of our people for the benefit of the Foreign and Civil Service. It has been an honor to underscore the dynamic changes taking place in the State Department and the critical role our employees play on the frontline of advancing U.S. national interests on behalf of the American people. This work is more important now, than ever.

I am always amazed how many countries in the world really look at the United States as a beacon for democracy, human rights, and hope.

Our growth as a nation –- our continued effort to value inclusion and service -- allows our increasingly diverse corps of foreign and civil servants to represent the best of the United States to nations around the world. Going forward it is critical that we share the story of how Foreign Service officers and State Department staff  -- in today’s unprecedented era of global challenges -- are making a profound difference in the lives of people and bringing hope to future generations.

About the Author: Donald Y. Yamamoto serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.