Throughout May, in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Public Affairs is collaborating with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to highlight the professional experiences and contributions of many of our colleagues. The mission of CDI is to provide support to leadership on matters pertaining to diversity recruitment and retention, cultivating an inclusive and tolerant work culture, and fostering the diversity of its workforce.
As part of the commemoration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, DSS posed the following question to several Asian American and Pacific Islander staffers: How has your Asian or Pacific Islander background influenced your personal life and your career with DS?
Following are their responses.
Being Asian/Polynesian, I encompass the values of each culture in my job.
Lulu -Diplomatic Courier
I have embraced my Filipino side during diplomacy by maintaining humility in everything I do. I have embraced my Polynesian values as a warrior in security to get things done and protect without harming the land or other people’s spirit. Together, being Asian/ Polynesian, I encompass the values of each culture in my job. I am a stronger diplomatic courier because those values are woven into the fabric of our DS tenets, especially being courageous, learning constantly and having integrity.
Hawai`i is an important part of my Pacific Islander heritage. To honor my ancestors, you will notice that I separated and used what is known as an “okina” (`) next to last “i”, which means “of God,” and the islands are the breath of water of God. My father was one of the first Filipino diplomats on American soil when Hawai`i was a territory, and he fought for plantation labor rights. My mother was a governess to the family of the governor of Guam.
If it were not for their sacrifices so that I and my siblings could have an education, a very Asian and Polynesian parental trait, I would not have understood why emotional and mental strength forms the backbone of all of us in Diplomatic Security.
A`ohe Hana Nui Ka Alu`ia: No task is too big when done together.
We are all one Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, near or far.
Charlette -Security Engineering Officer
I believe my native Hawaiian background helps me be a better manager. I was raised to put family first, and that extends to friends and colleagues. The feeling that we are all in this together and continuing to empower those around us, is something I attribute to my heritage. We are all one Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, near or far.
My South Asian background has played an influential role in my career.
Kaustubh-Security Engineering Officer
My South Asian background has played an influential role in my career as a security engineering officer. Excited to leverage my familiarity with the Indo-Pacific region and build bridges across communities, I was pleased to serve in New Delhi and Kabul, historically difficult-to-staff posts. Throughout my tenure in these locations, I served as a de-facto cultural exchange officer and liaison between locally hired staff and fellow American colleagues, breaking down communication barriers and building cohesive teams along the way.
Encouraging individualism in local decision-making, but stressing collective thinking among my work teams, helps me gain the best of both worlds in my career. Personally, the chance to serve in the region has been both challenging and rewarding.
As a Korean-Brazilian-American, I find common ground with my diverse host nation counterparts.
As a Korean-Brazilian-American, I grew up constantly leveraging my heritage against different sociocultural contexts, but when we emigrated to the United States, I embraced the confluence of identities that comprise my unique intersectionality. I found my niche in the foreign service, where my colleagues and I are recruited to find common ground with my diverse host nation counterparts to advance our government’s goals in the service of the American public.
The movements of 2020 brought attention to how our society uses the “Model Minority” myth to justify systemic oppression against Black and Brown Americans. As President Biden said, we as a nation still have a long way to go, and I take my responsibility as an assistant regional security officer to create a safe space for all my colleagues.
Embracing diversity has allowed our DS teams to become better and stronger.
Nathan-Acting Deputy Regional Director
I come from a lineage of strong work ethics. My grandparents, first-generation immigrants from Korea, went from working in the plantation fields to opening the first commercial kimchee business in Hawaii. My father worked for a dairy company and assisted the family business on the weekends and after work. My mother who, in between working, raised all nine of us—instilling a strong work ethic that has stuck with me throughout my career.
I grew up in Hawaii, which is home to the nation’s largest share of multiracial Americans and has the largest consumption of spam in the world. The food, like many delicacies from different cultures that some may shun or “tolerate,” is just one of the many shared aspects in Hawaii that is beloved. Music, religion and customs that are used every day are also shared and borrowed. In Hawaii, diversity is not tolerated, but embraced—an attitude I have carried with me throughout my life. Whether on the “mainland” or in a foreign country, embracing diversity has allowed the teams I work with to become better and stronger in carrying out the DS mission.
Growing up as a Korean American has shaped my personal identity and instilled meaning as a DS professional.
Bruce-Regional Cyber Security Officer
To know where you are going, you must know where you came from. I am the son of Korean immigrant parents who came to the United States seeking a better life. Growing up as a Korean American has shaped my personal identity and instilled meaning as a professional for Diplomatic Security.
Korean and American cultures are quite different, and growing up, I felt split between two worlds. How does one reconcile that divide? I had to form my identity based on similarities where cultures overlap and embrace the differences that make me unique. This sense of self gave me the opportunity to challenge cultural stereotypes and represent the diverse makeup of America thru my Korean heritage.
I am thankful for the challenges I have been through, and I learned that the ability to unite under
differences is what makes us stronger as an organization as well as a nation.
My heritage fosters resilience in challenging circumstances.
Foreign service, more often than not, is challenging, dangerous, and sometimes lonely work. Growing up Japanese American has fostered in me a sense of resilience that has helped while facing some of these adversities overseas.
Those lessons in resilience came in the form of stories the survivors of the Pacific war during WWII used to tell me. I vividly remember my grandmother recounting her memories of survival in the aftermath of an Allied bombing raid, and the horrific conditions my childhood hero, a U.S. Marine, endured while fighting on Iwo Jima. Far from being a distant history, their stories serve as an intimate reminder of how lucky we are, the importance of our work, and has undoubtedly inspired me to pursue a life of public service in support of diplomacy.
As a father of two sons, these stories also serve to inspire me to live up to the example set by my forebearers by leaving them a better, more peaceful world.
My Filipino-American culture and background have taken a pivotal role on how I approach local audiences.
Peter-Geospatial Tracking Specialist Desk Officer
Being a Filipino American, an immigrant and supporting DSS is a great reminder and representation of how opportunistic our country truly is. Throughout my upbringing, I was instilled the life principles of adaptability, resilience and perseverance—the same traits that represent the culture of Filipinos. This was further honed when I served in the United States Marine Corps as a tank mechanic, foreign military advisor and Marine Security Guard Detachment Commander.
I am now serving as a geospatial tracking specialist supporting DS functions domestically and abroad. My Filipino-American culture and background have taken a pivotal role on how I approach local audiences. This has been advantageous and given me the ability to foster meaningful relationships, build trust and show similarities between cultures. I am proud to be representing the minority group of Asian Americans Pacific Islanders who work within the Department and to show our continuous initiative to diversify and include all ethnic backgrounds in American society.
My background has enabled me to become a voice for diversity and inclusion in DS.
Lana-Senior Program Analyst
As the daughter of two South Vietnamese refugees who immigrated to California in the 1970s, my Vietnamese American upbringing was quintessentially American. When I joined DS as a civil service program analyst in 2013, I saw opportunities to leverage my background in my
career. I helped DS colleagues with their Vietnamese language skills and educated staff traveling to Vietnam on local customs and norms.
Given Vietnam’s francophone legacy, I learned French at an early age and used my French language skills to support regional security office operations during temporary duty assignments in Ouagadougou and Paris. For the last decade, I have also mentored Asian-American college students from across the country who are interested in public service careers, especially with DS. Most importantly, my background has enabled me to become a voice for diversity and inclusion in DS and has allowed me to offer unique insights on how we can better achieve our mission.
When there is a common mission, people find they are more alike than they are different.
Reinalyn-Foreign Affairs Officer
As a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, my parents instilled a love for the United States of America in me from a young age, along with the constant reminder of how lucky I was to be in the United States. I had opportunities available to me that so many in the Philippines would never get.
Not wanting to waste my privilege, I was the first in my family to graduate from a university. I served in the U.S. Army and now as a civil servant in DS in part to repay the country that has given so much to me and my family.
These career choices put me in male-dominated environments where I interacted with few Asian and Pacific Islanders colleagues. However, I quickly learned that when there is a common mission, people find they are more alike than they are different. I am grateful to work in an organization that sees diversity as a strength and recognizes everyone can bring something different to the table—and I don’t just mean lumpia.
Representing diversity at home and abroad is a responsibility that I cherish and do not take lightly.
Being raised Filipino-American in a rural Midwest town meant that I learned early on how to overcome differences and build meaningful friendships with those unlike me.
While serving overseas, I have often been the first Asian American that a local national has ever seen. When I engage foreign audiences, I sometimes tell my parents’ story of their assimilation in the United States, the joys and challenges they encountered, and the opportunities they created towards a positive future for their children and grandchildren.
The values and lessons that my parents instilled in me greatly influence how I understand and treat others as a DS special agent. Since joining DS in 2013, I have been extremely pleased to see Asian Americans become a greater part of the fabric of diversity within the Department. Representing that diversity at home and abroad is a responsibility that I cherish and do not take lightly. My hope is that Asian Americans continue to swell the ranks and rise to senior leadership positions within DS and federal law enforcement.