In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Bureau of Global Public Affairs highlights three Hispanic/Latinx colleagues whose devotion to public service has made the Department of State, the crux of U.S. foreign policy, what it is today.
Michael “Mike” Flores, Deputy Director, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Canada Desk.
A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Michael “Mike” Flores is the Deputy Director for WHA’s Canada Desk. Originally from East Los Angeles, Mike joined the Foreign Service on September 10, 2001. Mike served tours in Bogota, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bangkok, and Mexico City. He worked short-term in Yekaterinburg, Tashkent, Kathmandu, Yangon, and was detailed to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Washington, D.C., Mike served as the Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security and in the Office of United Nations Political Affairs. Mike is a State Department Pickering Fellow and speaks Spanish, Russian, and Thai.
How did growing up in East Los Angeles shape you as a Foreign Service Officer?
East Los Angeles (ELA) is home for me, and it’s a place I’ve learned to appreciate more as I grow older. My family continues to live in the area and I’m lucky to get a chance to visit often. There are so many good-hearted, hard-working people in ELA, not to mention it has some of the best food in the world. It’s a place that remains at my core, where I learned to dream big and do what it takes to succeed. You got to be tough in ELA because life is not easy there. Despite that, I realize people with so little materially share what little they have. They give with their hearts. It’s a place of immigrant hunger and an undying desire to obtain the American dream. Tenacity, grit, and persistence are one’s currency in ELA. Those are the tenets I continue to incorporate in my life and career at the State Department.
You often speak of “opportunities.” What did you do to promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility throughout your career culminating in your position as Deputy Director in WHA/CAN? How can others follow suit?
Diversity makes the United States a great country, and it’s a source of strength for me. Growing up, my family was very matriarchal, and I was fortunate to have great people from all backgrounds in my life. My family loves fiercely and always made it known that they would love me no matter what kind of friends I had or who I loved (this was quite bold for a kid growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s). Those diverse individuals throughout my life offered me so much opportunity, imparted their knowledge, and shared their secrets of success. To that end, I’ve worked to ensure those around me are allowed opportunities to spread their wings and find their success. It’s something that comes naturally to me since it is what others did for me repeatedly. My advice to others is this: life is very short, use your time to build your success and the success of others. I believe we all benefit when we’re operating at our best.
Maria Macarena Apud, Economic Officer, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination
As an Argentine-American who was born in Italy where her parents were stationed, Maria has been exposed to International Relations her entire life. Currently an economic officer with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination, Maria Macarena Apud focuses on economic infrastructure-related initiatives and analyzes and provides policy guidance on economic trends and extra-regional economic influence to advance U.S. foreign policy in the region. Today, she is the Vice President for Civil Service of the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA), and is a founding member of WHA’s Diversity Council, a 2018 International Career Advancement Program Fellow, and was selected as a Latino National Security and Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader as part of the Diversity in National Security Network in 2019.
What was the moment in your career that you knew you were at the right place at the State Department?
It was my first time traveling to Central America for a regional energy conference. When I got there, I felt an immediate sense of familiarity. We had spent days working with our foreign government partners prior to the big event, but we still had to manage a last-minute policy issue. Despite our counterpart’s perfect English, there were some nuances that were difficult to understand in one’s non-native language. We started to discuss the issue in Spanish and continued to work together seamlessly over the course of three days, rapidly solving any issue. It was such a rewarding moment for me to be there on one of my first official visits representing the Department while communicating in my native language. That was when I knew this is where I belonged.
Why and when should people celebrate their heritage as a part of their identity? Especially at work?
One’s heritage should be celebrated year-round, not just one month out of the year. Despite the challenges we may face not just in our careers, but growing up, I know my heritage has allowed me to better understand the different nuances in speech, culture, and points of view. This, in turn, has enhanced my experience and added value to my work in developing and implementing foreign policy and representing the U.S. domestically and abroad. Speaking Spanish with our counterparts in my thick Argentine accent has on occasion caused amusing confusion. Sometimes, when people see me, they don’t automatically think I’m Latina, of Argentine origin, or part of the U.S. delegation. But being able to utilize those skills and make those connections are constant reminders of how proud I am of my heritage and to be representing our government as an Argentine-American Latina.
Harold Jahnsen, Foreign Affairs Officer, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP)
Since 2018, Harold has served on the J/TIP team, which is the focal point on all matters related to multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). He recently started serving in the Reports and Political Affairs section of J/TIP. Before joining J/TIP, Harold worked at the Refugee Processing Center (RPC), operated by the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration (PRM).
As an immigrant from Peru, Harold began his career at the Department of State as an intern in the political section of Embassy Buenos Aires, the Office of Brazil and Southern Cone, the U.S. Mission to the OAS, and Diplomatic Security.
Harold currently served as the Student Outreach and Social Chair of the Department’s Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA)
How did your unique childhood interest in Star Wars, geography, and history lead you to the State Department?
When I was a kid, I loved Star Wars. One of my favorite aspects of the Star Wars movies was the fact that they involved different people from around the galaxy and they all had different cultures. The Jedi Council was composed of individuals that came from different walks of life, had different cultures, and looked different. Like in the real world, they all had common goals and many aspects that unified them. My other favorite part about the Star Wars movies is that the characters traveled to different parts of the galaxy on missions, seeing this planted a seed for exploring inside my young mind.
As a child, I used to love geography. I used to create imaginary maps and names of fictitious countries for fun. One day, I decided to draw the flags of the world and color them. My mother bought me a pouch to put them in and take them around. I was very impressed with the accuracy when, as an adult, I found these flags. I included the small stars and words in the middle of the Brazilian flag, all the stars in the Chinese flag, and of course, all fifty stars in the U.S. flag. I found flags from countries that I had no idea I knew about as a child, such as the Zambian flag. I guess I was a little geography nerd who also liked to look up on historic events.
One thing that comes to mind from my childhood is that I always had experience in a foreign affairs environment. A former HECFAA President once told me that immigrant children or the children of immigrants grow up developing skills that are unique and useful to navigate a career in foreign affairs.
I was born in Lima, Peru. My family migrated to the United States in 1999 when I was eight years old and I grew up in northern Virginia. I grew up in two awesome worlds: a world that spoke Spanish, ate ceviche, and screamed “goal” when the ball touched the net; and a world that treasured pumpkin pie, spoke English, and jumped up every time there was a touch down. My world involved translating for my parents and many times explaining certain cultural differences. In many ways, my childhood involved me bringing U.S. and Peruvian cultures together. This is the tale of every immigrant child.
Your career journey with State is unique–starting as an intern, becoming a contractor, then being a Civil Service Officer. What advice would you give someone who has a non-linear career at State?
I have transitioned from intern to contractor and now to the Civil Service. The process is hard but my main advice is to never give up and be persistent. Always do a great job. After all, your work and character is what will always define you. A positive attitude, patience, and good work are recipes for success.
A colleague of mine once told me that a great way to get the job you want is to try to get experience in what the job requires ahead of time. This can be done by volunteering within your office or helping out the team you want to join. This will not only give you experience but will also show initiative. And with initiative, anything is possible in this world, especially at State.
More about the Diversity & Diplomacy Series
In the Diversity & Diplomacy series, we highlight the contributions of employees from all backgrounds. Those interviewed were recognized in the Spotlight@State series led by the GPA’s Employee Communications team.
We extend our thanks to Mike, Maria, and Harold for contributing their time and effort to share their stories as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.
About the Author: Roberta Mather serves as the Senior Advisor for Employee Communications for the Bureau of Global Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.