Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month, from September 15 to October 15, celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of U.S. citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. As part of the U.S. Department of State’s annual commemoration, we asked several Diplomatic Security Service colleagues of Hispanic heritage to discuss their backgrounds, diversity, and the role each has played in their careers.
Raymond M. Baroni, Special Agent
"I’m evidence that the United States is a nation of opportunity."
How has my Hispanic background helped me professionally? My answer is one word: Immensely.
Being Hispanic and speaking Spanish has helped me as a diplomat in developing rapport with not only our host-nation interlocutors but also our locally employed staff in Colombia, Mexico, and Venezela.
On a few occasions, host-nation colleagues, who learned about my background, stated that I am evidence that the United States is a nation of opportunity, where an immigrant Hispanic child can grow up to become a military officer, then a federal law enforcement officer, and finally a diplomat.
Damaris Garcia, Security Engineering Officer
"So many different ethnicities and cultures ultimately have the same values."
I grew up in Puerto Rico, the oldest of six children. We lived in the country, in the mountains, with a lot of nature around and not a lot of people. It was a strict and loving household, with hard work and education drilled into us.
In my travels with the State Department, I’ve found that so many different ethnicities and cultures ultimately have the same values: Family, hard work, kindness to others are just some that come to mind.
I’m proud of where I come from and more than happy to tell everyone and anyone all about Puerto Rico and our people. But if there is something I’ve learned about people around the world, it is that we are more alike than different—we just may not allow ourselves to see it.
Luis A. Matus, Supervisory Special Agent
"My heritage has made me a better agent, colleague, leader, and employee."
From a business model perspective, the Department is built as a global organization and, as such, possesses an extremely diverse workforce. I see the continuing success of our organization as being directly tied to its diversity. Having a workforce that comes from different backgrounds, like I do, encourages differing opinions and ways of looking at operational issues, policies, procedures, etc. It stimulates creativity and forces us to “challenge the norm.” Any successful business needs diversity not only to survive, but also to thrive. With virtually every aspect of my career, having Hispanic heritage has helped out. It has made me become a better agent, colleague, leader, and employee of the State Department.
Being of Latin-American descent has helped in scores of instances: Discussing security programs with host nation counterparts in Mexico, or Colombia; meeting with personnel from various ministries in Peru; or simply chatting with our LES (locally employed staff) colleagues at the dozens of embassies where I have traveled. Being able to interact and converse in Spanish has proven to be professionally invaluable.
Jetzabel Rosario, Security Support Specialist
"A core value of my culture is to respect others, especially family."
My Hispanic heritage has helped me understand the importance of respect towards my Diplomatic Security “family.” One of the core values of my culture is to respect others, especially family. I was raised by a strong independent Puerto Rican mother who taught me to value myself as a female and to respect myself and those around me.
In the workplace, I interact on a daily basis with special agents and staff whom I consider my second family. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security has diverse members from different ethnicities who reinforce the value of respect and also teach me about different cultures. I have been able to learn from those around me, and I believe they have learned from me. Similarly, being Puerto Rican has allowed me to share my culture, values, and the roots of my beautiful heritage with the agents at the office. I also teach them, for example, to differentiate a Puerto Rican from a Dominican by imparting my cultural knowledge of Puerto Rico, which sometimes helps them in their investigations. I am proud of my heritage, but I am more proud to know that I can make a difference within the Department.
Walter A. Rios, Special Agent
"Diversity has allowed DSS to become the leading global force in law enforcement and security."
Ethnic and cultural diversity has allowed DSS to become the leading global force in law enforcement and security matters it is today. Being a Hispanic DSS special agent in the U.S. Department of State has afforded me the opportunity not only to effectively communicate with other Spanish speakers, but also to gain a different perspective when dealing in multinational environments.
I am currently assigned to my native Puerto Rico, and my cultural background has allowed me to be a more adept investigator of crimes affecting the Hispanic community. Earlier, while on the Secretary of State’s Protective Detail in Lima, Peru, in my work with local government officials, I was naturally able to negotiate more effectively with my counterparts, ensuring a more secure setting in which to conduct U.S. diplomacy.
About the Author: Barbara Gleason serves in the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medum.