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hispanic heritage month: todos somos, somos uno (we are all, we are one)

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, from September 15 – October 15, the U.S. government celebrates the countless contributions of more than 60 million Hispanic Americans, Latinos, Latinas, and Latinx-identifying people to our culture and society. Hispanic Americans are the largest minority group in the United States today, and generations of 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. The Hispanic-American community has left an indelible mark on our government, culture, and economy.

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the contributions and the important presence of Hispanic and Latin Americans in the U.S. and within the Department of State. In partnership with the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA) , the Department highlights biographies of Hispanic employees who support diplomatic efforts around the world. To see videos of Hispanic employees discussing their experiences working for the Department, visit the HECFAA YouTube Channel .

Maria Macarena Apud

Maria Macarena Apud is the regional economic advisor in WHA’s Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination (EPSC) where she focuses on economic infrastructure related initiatives and analyzes and provides policy guidance on economic trends and regional economic influence. She has served on temporary details, including U.S. Embassies Buenos Aires and Lima, and was WHA/EPSC’s Energy Officer. She started her career at the State Department on the Colombia desk and prior to that worked on Capitol Hill for more than four years. She proudly represented HECFAA as Vice President for Civil Service from January 2021 to May 2022, is a 2018 International Career Advancement Program Fellow, and a founding member of WHA’s diversity council. She holds an M.A. in International Affairs with a focus on international economics from the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University (GWU) and a B.A. in Political Science and Psychology from GWU. She also speaks Spanish fluently but her French is a little rusty.

Carolina Ardón Ayala

Carolina Ardón Ayala is a Foreign Service Officer serving as the Special Consular Services Chief for American Citizen Services at U.S. Embassy London.  She has served in the Department of State since 2015 at U.S. Embassy Skopje, U.S. Embassy Mexico City, in the Operations Center, as Staff Assistant in the Front Office of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and U.S. Embassy Islamabad.  Carolina earned her B.A., M.A., and M.Ed. degrees from George Mason University.  Outside of the office Carolina enjoys hiking with her tandem spouse and daughter and playing roller derby. 

Ray Baroni

Ray Baroni is a DSS Supervisory Special Agent. He served as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Oslo and as an Assistant RSO at U.S. Embassy Bogotá, U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem, and twice at U.S. Embassy Baghdad. Prior to the Foreign Service, Ray was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and served at the Defense Attaché Office in U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa. Born in Chile, Ray immigrated to the U.S. at the age of seven.

Sierra Bracero

Sierra Bracero is the Treasurer of the Hispanic and Latin Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies. Sierra works as an Anti-Corruption Visa Advisor in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Sierra is Puerto Rican from New York. Prior to working for the U.S. Department of State, Sierra was an active-duty Marine. In the Marines Sierra served as a Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Gunner. Sierra has completed her undergraduate education at Norwich University, majoring in National Security Studies. She is currently seeking a second bachelor’s degree with Harvard University in Government.

Nora S. Brito

Nora S. Brito joined the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 2014.  She most recently served as a Special Assistant in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL).  She will join Embassy Kyiv in September as the Justice Sector Program Officer. Previously, she completed the Council on Foreign Relations’ International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) with International Crisis Group.  Prior assignments include: ESTH Officer at U.S. Embassy Mexico City; Advisor to the Special Envoy for Venezuela; Political Officer at U.S. Embassy Caracas; and Consular Officer at U.S. Embassy Port of Spain.  Nora is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy. Nora holds an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and a B.A. in International Relations and Economics from American University.  Born to an Ecuadorian mother and Dominican father, Nora is originally from New York. Nora is a cigar aficionado and the owner of a small rum collection.

Luis Calvo

Luis Calvo became a participant in the Pathways Student Programs at the U. S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) in 2019, where he worked in the CA/EX Human Resource division while completing his master’s degree at George Washington University. Luis Calvo has a Masters in International Affairs with a concentration on U.S Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy. Previously, Luis served with the Department as a summer intern for CA in 2017 and as FA campus coordinator at his undergraduate institution in Florida where he assisted the Diplomat in Residence for South Florida with outreach activities. Luis Calvo served at the Sudan Desk for 3 years and now recently joined IO/UNP as part of the new Professional Development Mobility Program (PDMP) that allows civil servants to do rotations at the State Department. This is Luis’ first PDMP rotation and he will be in UNP for 18 months.

Isabel Carneiro

Isabel Carneiro is the President of the Hispanic & Latin Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA) and the Programs Chair for Executive Women at State. She works as a Contract Specialist in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of the Executive Director serving as the Contracting Officer Representative for the Global Support Strategy contract. She has worked in three functional bureaus: Diplomatic Security, Consular Affairs, and the Foreign Service Institute. She holds a Masters Degree in International Security and Bachelors Degree in Global Affairs from George Mason University.

Constanza Castro Zúñiga

Constanza Castro Zúñiga currently serves as the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief at U.S. Embassy Oslo. She was born in Santiago, Chile and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in political science and economics at the University of Kansas and her masters in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Constanza is a proud TRIO program and PPIA alum. Prior to joining the Department, Constanza worked in the office of late Congressman Elijah Cummings and with the Council for Opportunity in Education fighting for educational access for underrepresented groups. Constanza joined the Department of State in 2019 as a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow. Next year, Constanza will join the International Organizations Office and work at the United Nations Political Affairs Office in Washington, DC.

Diana Chavez-Varela

Diana Chavez-Varela, is a 2022 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellow. During Summer 2023, she interned at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Foreign Assistance and is currently pursuing her Master in Public Affairs at Princeton University. Prior to her work at the State Department, Diana worked as a Risk and Financial Advisory Analyst at Deloitte where she conducted cyber and strategic risk analysis for C-Suite executives of multinational organizations. Diana received her B.A. in Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley. During her undergraduate studies, Diana conducted casework for recently resettled refugees at the International Rescue Committee and managed a team of more than thirty undergraduate researchers at Berkeley Law’s Human Rights Center. She completed a global internship abroad while studying at the University of Hong Kong and was awarded a fully funded scholarship for an immersive educational trip in the Middle East. She is proficient in Spanish and French.

Melina De La Garza

Melina De La Garza is the Africa Team Lead for the Bureau of International Organizations (IO)’s Office of UN Political Affairs. Prior to IO, Melina was a Desk Officer covering Cameroon, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea for the Bureau of African Affairs (AF). While in AF, Melina was a Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Political Affairs, advising on key developments and priorities pertaining to IO, USUN, and J family. Melina joined the Department as a threat analyst on Africa for Diplomatic Security and detailed in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before joining the Department, Melina was an Asylum Officer for the Department of Homeland Security and clerked for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Melina has a JD from The University of Texas School of Law and a B.A. from New York University. She hails from San Antonio, Texas.

Karina G. Garcia

Karina G. Garcia joined the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ Office for European Union and Regional Affairs (EUR/ERA) in July as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Political Section. Karina was previously an Intelligence Analyst on the European Union in INR/EUR. During a tour as the Ecuador Desk Officer, she helped to rebuild the U.S.- Ecuador bilateral partnership. She has served at Embassies Dublin and Bogota and interned at the U.S. Mission to the EU and in the WHA Front Office as a Pickering Fellow. Karina is currently the Chief of Staff for the Hispanic and Latin Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies. Karina earned a MIA from SIPA at Columbia University and a B.A. from UCLA.

Paloma Gonzalez

Paloma Gonzalez is the Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest and oversees our strategic political-military relationship with Romania. Paloma’s previous assignment was as Colombia Counternarcotics Policy Lead for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs overseeing a $250 million budget. She has worked 15 years advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives in Romania, Colombia, Brazil, Haiti, and Mexico. Paloma was recognized by New America as a Latino National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader. She has a B.A. in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College and M.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. Paloma is a first-generation Mexican American; fluent in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Romanian.

Hermes Grullon

Hermes Grullon serves as a Foreign Service Orientation Deputy Course Coordinator. Prior assignments include serving as a Political Officer in the U.S. mission to the OAS, Watch Officer in the 24/7 Operations Center, Consular Officer/Acting Deputy Consul General in Embassy Managua, and Political Section Chief in Embassy Djibouti. A first-generation college graduate, he completed his B.A. at DePauw University, M.A. in International Relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and coursework at Howard University. He is from Brooklyn, New York born to Dominican immigrants and married with two young children. He was a Rangel Scholar, Pickering Fellow, Gilman Scholar, Institute for International Public Policy Fellow, and International Career Advancement Program Fellow. He currently serves as the Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association president.

Natalie Guerrero

Natalie Guerrero joined the Foreign Service in 2011 and has served as an Office Manager at U.S. Missions in Caracas, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Madrid and Paris. Some career highlights include supporting the Afghan evacuation operation in the UAE to provide humanitarian assistance; working a repatriation mission for USG staff, diplomatic pouches and medical supplies; coordinating an Aviation Security Conference; and staffing a U.S. Women’s Soccer Envoy. Natalie earned an M.A and B.A. from DePaul University in Chicago, her hometown.

Susana Guzman

Susana Guzman serves as a civil servant for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs working on the EducationUSA Program. Her experience within the Department of State includes working on the Fulbright Program, high school private exchanges, and in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs – Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Her career has been focused on promoting mutual and cultural understanding between people in the United States and the world through the Department’s flagship diplomacy exchange programs. Susana is currently serving as a board member of the Hispanic and Latin Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA) as the Professional Development Co-Chair. Susana holds undergraduate degrees in International Relations from Miami Dade College and Florida International University, and a master’s degree in International Education from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Susana is a first generation American with Cuban and Colombian descent.

Melissa Ledesma-Leese

Melissa Ledesma-Leese is the Senior Advisor for Retention in GTM. Previously she served as Chief of Staff for the Director General of the Foreign Service and Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM). She was Deputy Advisor of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit and joined the Department in 2006. She served as Consular Chief for the Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho. She started her career as a training coordinator for the Office of Fraud Prevention Programs in Consular Affairs. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University in English, Spanish, and Theatre. It was during her undergraduate days that she starred in a theater production called “De Donde?”-Spanish words for, “Where are you from?” This play introduced Melissa to many different issues in immigration law. It is at this time that she decided to enroll in law school, earning her Juris Doctor from the University of Toledo. She enjoys theater and traveling with her husband and son all over the world.

Megan Lysaght

Megan Lysaght (she/hers) is a Management Analyst and the DEIA lead in the Global Talent Management Bureau’s Retention Unit. Hailing from Ventura, CA, Ms. Lysaght is a Mexican-American and is a first generation college graduate. She earned both her BA and MPPA from California Lutheran University, a proud HSI. Ms. Lysaght started her public service as a Peace Corps Community Economic Development Volunteer in Azerbaijan, where she met her now-wife.

Irelys Marti-Sanchez

Irelys Marti-Sanchez joined the Department of State in August 2016. Currently she serves as an Industrial Hygienist (IH) for the Safety, Health and Environmental Management Office under the Overseas Building Operations (OBO/OPS/SHEM). Irelys works with the Risk Analysis and Management group supporting two main areas, the Mishap Reporting and Investigation and the Motor Vehicle Safety Management Program for overseas posts. In terms of the Mishap Investigation program, Irelys receives, reviews and analyze workplace and residential mishap reports and data to identify trends so that preventive measures can be implemented to reduce the frequency and severity of future mishaps. Keeping communication with the management and creating awareness of emerging trends is also part of her day-to-day tasks.

Manuel “Manny” Medrano

Manuel “Manny” Medrano is a Civil Servant, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and grew up in the small town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Manny is the Office Director for Cyber Monitoring and Operations, in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Directorate of Cyber Technology and Security. He is responsible for the leadership of the 24/7 Cybersecurity Operations Center; primary focus is to monitor Department enterprise systems against malicious traffic. Prior to this assignment, Mr. Medrano was the Acting Director for Cyber Threat and Investigations and Division Chief for the Cyber Threat and Analysis Division. Manny started his career at the U.S. Department of State 13 years ago and has held several assignments domestically and overseas, to include Technology Advisor to the Secretary’s Office, Information Systems Security Officer to the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor and Oceans International Environmental and Science Affairs. He also created a security program for the Cloud Program Management Office in the Bureau of Information Resource Management.

Moises Mendoza

Moises Mendoza is a Colombian-American Foreign Service Officer working as a Special Assistant in the Executive office at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. Previously Moises served as a Watch Officer in the Department’s Operations Center as well as a Central America Desk Officer. Moises has also served in Matamoros, Mexico and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He is a past winner of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad and the W. Averell Harriman Award for Constructive Dissent by an Entry Level Officer. Moises holds master’s degrees from Columbia University and the Hertie School of Governance, and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. He speaks French, German, and Spanish.

Frank Mora

Ambassador Frank Mora, Ph.D., was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States on December 30, 2022. Prior to his current position, he was Professor of Politics and International Relations and Senior Researcher at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University (FIU). From 2013 to 2020, Ambassador Mora served as Director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at FIU. Prior to arriving at FIU, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere from 2009–2013. He has held several teaching positions, including Professor of National Security Strategy and Latin American Studies at the National War College, National Defense University (2004–2009), and Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of International Studies, Rhodes College (2000–2004). Ambassador Mora received his Ph.D. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Inter-American Studies from the University of Miami. He earned his B.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University. He also completed studies at universities in Peru and Costa Rica.

Sinai Pacheco-Zamora

Sinai Pacheco started as a State Department intern in the employee organization, Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agency (HECFAA). Her experience includes working as a contractor in Diplomatic Security, the alumni office in the Educational & Cultural Affairs Bureau, and the Paid Student Internship Program. Sinai holds a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of South Florida. She speaks, write, and reads fluent Spanish.

Luis “Lu” Reinoso

Luis “Lu” Reinoso is currently working as a Special Assistant to the GTM/CDA Director. Prior tours include Erbil, Iraq; Recife, Brazil; Vienna, Austria; and Abuja, Nigeria. Before the Foreign Service, Lu served a 20-year career as an active-duty Navy officer. As a first-generation Peruvian American, he credits his immigrant parents for his lifelong dedication to public service. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and German.

Isabel E. Rioja-Scott

Isabel E. Rioja-Scott is a career Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, currently serving as the Economic Counselor in U.S. Embassy Madrid. From 2021-2022 she served as Director for North America in the White House National Security Council, where she helped craft the President’s bilateral agendas with Mexico and Canada and revived structures for North American integration. She also served as Economic and Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Panama City, focusing on illicit finance, geostrategic security issues, and maritime affairs, and was Deputy Director in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Office of Policy Planning and Coordination (WHA/PPC), which fields regional issues in the Western Hemisphere. She also served as Political Counselor and Trade Officer in U.S. Embassy Mexico City from 2012-2016 during trade agreement negotiations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Monica E. Skinner

Monica E. Skinner was born in Lima, Peru. She joined the Department of State in 2003. Monica is a Foreign Service IT Manager who held overseas assignments in Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Montevideo, and Islamabad. She is presently working at the Regional Diplomatic Technology at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany as the Systems Operations Officers Branch Chief. While living in the Washington, DC area, Monica worked for the Secretary of State Mobile Communication Office, traveling extensively to support the Department of State Diplomatic mission. Later, Monica joined the Foreign Service Institute as the Information Resource Management Bureau New-Hires Program Manager. She also completed the Chief Information Officer Certificate as a member of the Executive Development Program, following an assignment as the Regional Technical Officer for the NEA-SCA regions. Monica graduated from George Mason University with a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems and held an M.S. in Government Information and Leadership from the National Defense University.

Ada Symister

Ada Symister joined the Department of State in 2016. Ada has served in various domestic and overseas positions. She currently works as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Litigation Analyst for the Bureau of Administration, providing case management analysis to attorneys in the Legal Division. Ada previously worked as a Country Officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizen Services. She has also served overseas as a Visa Adjudicator in Brazil and Nigeria. Ada received her degree from Inter-American University in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She speaks English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

C. Eduardo Vargas Toro

C. Eduardo Vargas Toro is the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor/ Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Policy Adviser for human rights in the Andean Region. Before joining the Department of State, he served in the Administration of President Barack Obama and USAID. During his tenure at USAID, he served as Deputy Director of the Center for Faith Based & Community Initiatives and as Senior Communications Officer at the USAID Mission in Guatemala City. Eduardo, a Colombian-American—earned his M.A. in International Relations at Seton Hall University.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future