In his proclamation on Hispanic Heritage Month this year, President Trump highlights the extensive contributions of Hispanic Americans to U.S. culture and society, noting “Hispanic Americans have consistently helped make our country strong and prosperous. They contribute to our Nation beyond description. Hispanic Americans embody the best of our American values, including commitment to faith, family, and country.”
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), the Department is highlighting the biographies of some of our exemplary Hispanic employees who support diplomatic efforts around the world on a daily basis.
Building on this effort, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) sent out a call for stories from employees of Hispanic heritage who are currently working to advance U.S. diplomacy with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, either from D.C. or at our posts throughout region. These stories explore the unique ways our WHA employees’ Hispanic heritage has influenced and enriched their upbringing, their career trajectory, and their work to support the Bureau’s efforts to expand democracy, prosperity, and security throughout the Western Hemisphere.
One such employee is Carolina Escalera, a career Foreign Service officer currently serving as our spokesperson at U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo. In the Dominican Republic, she has focused on building capacity for local journalists and highlighting public diplomacy across the interagency, receiving the Joint Civil Service Achievement Medal from the Chairman Joint Chief of Staff for her commendable service of major significance to the Department of Defense. Her previous assignments include Rio de Janeiro as a Consular Officer and Surabaya, Indonesia as a Public Affairs Officer. Prior to the Foreign Service, she worked at the White House covering Latino Media and has over five years of experience as a journalist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and an M.P.A. from Columbia University. She is a former Fulbright fellow and State Department Charles B. Rangel Fellow. She speaks Indonesian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Carolina was featured in this year’s list as a 2020 Latino National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders. Read more here.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Carolina shares her perspectives on her Hispanic heritage in the following Q&A:
Tell us about yourself and your Hispanic heritage.
I was born in Missouri where my parents met during their university years. My mother was an international student from Venezuela and my father came from San Juan, Puerto Rico. My Latinidad and heritage are a very important aspect of my identity. I grew up speaking Spanish, and visiting both the island of Puerto Rico and my relatives in Venezuela during summer vacations. These experiences allowed me to learn how to navigate and express myself in different cultures and languages and showed me how to respect and understand different points of views. As I grew older, I used my multicultural upbringing to connect and uplift people in my community. I started a Spanish news radio program which allowed Latinos across 11 towns in mid-Missouri to have access and receive information in their native language. Given my personal experience of engaging across cultural experiences, my heritage sparked my interest for international affairs and making a larger impact on the world.
What are some of the traditions that you recall as a child?
I grew up with the aromas of Puerto Rican pollo guisado y arroz con habicuelas and Venezuelan arepas y caraotas negras. It wasn’t just the food that was a large part of my upbringing but the traditions. My sister and I learned how to dance traditional Venezuelan joropo at a young age and performed at several Hispanic heritage festivals and school events in the U.S. The long flowing dresses that allowed us to tell the story of the color, vibrancy and beautifulness of our culture is one thing I will never forget. Dance and music continue to be a large part of my life now and I have sought to highlight and integrate it in public diplomacy as a way to build ties amongst people since music is a language that spans across borders.
How has your Hispanic heritage affected your career and outlook on life? How does your heritage influence your current work in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs?
My Latinx heritage and growing up multicultural has positively affected my career and outlook on life. I am able to easily adapt to different scenarios, languages, cultures and be open to learning from others because it is something I have been doing all my life. In my current post, my Latinx heritage allows me to engage in a productive and effective way with journalists in the Dominican Republic. Whether it is doing multiple interviews on foreign policy issues in Spanish, communicating and analyzing a local news topic to my supervisors, or understanding the nuances of the culture to help make a major visit successful, I am a more effective officer because of my heritage. I have advocated for innovative and creative projects that highlights the diversity of the United States and how it can build people-to-people ties. One of our most successful campaigns has been one where we celebrate the accomplishments of Dominican-Americans on our social media accounts for Hispanic Heritage Month. It has been one of our most engaging campaigns, as we show the Dominican audience how young Dominican-Americans are making a positive impact on U.S. society – demonstrating how the U.S.-DR relationship has strong family and cultural ties. This further deepens the friendship and collaboration between the two countries.
Why is a diversity of cultures important to the U.S. government and the workforce in general?
The United States takes great pride in being a multicultural nation and the U.S. government and workforce should reflect that diversity. Diversity is essential whether in the meeting room discussing our foreign policy approach or on camera as we present these values across the globe. In the realm of public diplomacy, our diversity is what helps us better engage with our partners and our adversaries. As a diplomat, I’ve committed to demonstrating that diversity helps us connect with people and engage on shared values. Whether it is hosting a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Indonesia or being on camera to discuss Secretary Pompeo’s visit to the Dominican Republic, my heritage has helped me contribute positively to the Department of State.
About the Author: Caitlin Fogarty serves as Public Outreach Coordinator in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.