ASSISTANT SECRETARY SATTERFIELD: Good evening. Welcome to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room for this historic occasion to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and to forge a closer partnership with the Hispanic community in collaboration with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, also known as HACU. Welcome to the members of the diplomatic corps, HACU and its members, civil society leaders, students and exchange participants, and colleagues.
I’d like to thank Dr. General – Director General Marcia Bernicat and Senior Bureau Official for Public Diplomacy Liz Allen for their partnership. (Applause.) I also want to thank Deputy Assistant Secretary Ethan Rosenzweig and all of the academic team at ECA for getting us to this point. (Cheers and applause.) I want to take a moment to recognize the department’s Hispanic Employee Council, a foreign affairs agency which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. (Applause.)
I’m pleased to be joined onstage with Dr. Antonio Flores, president of HACU (applause); two of our outstanding department employees, Josue Barrera and Susana Guzman (applause); and of course, our Secretary of State Antony Blinken (applause). I am Lee Satterfield, the assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs. Tonight’s ceremony signifies much more than a signing ceremony. Tonight we celebrate the priority that Secretary Blinken places on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
The State Department is elevating the Biden administration’s engagement with the Hispanic community by signing this important MOU with HACU, the first time it’s been signed by a secretary of state in two decades. (Applause.)
Yesterday, Secretary Blinken said that President Biden’s National Security Strategy lays out a vision for a free, open, secure, and prosperous world, and a comprehensive plan to realize it. This MOU is an important step in that plan. The Biden administration want more members of the Hispanic community to be a part of America’s diplomatic and development work. We want more opportunities for Hispanic students and scholars to study and research abroad. And we want more international students and scholars studying and researching at our Hispanic-serving institutions, because inclusion of every community strengthens our global competitiveness, security, and shared prosperity.
Now please join me in welcoming Josue Barrera. (Applause.)
MR BARRERA: Buenas noches.
AUDIENCE: Buenas noches.
MR BARRERA: It’s my favorite part of any Hispanic event. (Laughter.) My name is Josue Manuel Barrera, if you can try saying that, too. My HACU story started 16 years ago. I was a second-year graduate student and teaching assistant studying public policy at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, an overwhelmingly Hispanic-serving institution recognized now for its positive impact in social mobility. I helped coordinate the visit of a HACU representative to the university, and by the end of the visit, I added my name to the list of students interested in gaining experience at the federal level.
Several months passed and I didn’t give it much thought, and then a phone call. The HACU representative on the other end of the line asked if I was interested in spending a semester in D.C. If so, I had two days to decide and two weeks to prepare. So I sold my very cool 1988 Nissan Pathfinder, bought some horribly ill-fitting suits, and hopped on a plane to D.C. When I called my mother know, I landed and everything was okay, and the first thing she asked us: Cuando regresas – when are you coming back? (Laughter.) To this day, I call, and the first thing she asks is: when are you coming back?
The phone call – back to the story – opened the doors for me to enter public service at the State Department and the opportunity to contribute to our nation in unique and meaningful ways. In the Bureau of Public Affairs – I see my first supervisor here – Western Hemisphere Affairs, Educational and Cultural Affairs (cheers) – wow, cool – and now Global Talent Management (cheers).
In 2019 just before the pandemic hit and the national dialogue on race escalated, my team began the effort to institutionalize what’s now the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. And I just returned to the department a few weeks ago after spending a year studying national security strategy with senior military officials. My current focus is another of the Secretary’s priorities: working to develop the department’s first-ever strategic plan for retention.
I will forever be grateful for that HACU phone call and the path is has led to. It’s a call that I hope HACU can continue making for many students in the years to come.
Now, he may not have been the person who made the call, but I know it was the work of the individual whom I’m about to introduce that made it possible. Since 1996, he has been the driving force in building HACU and, to clarion call, effectively serving our nation’s Hispanic-serving institutions, and positively affecting the education, careers, and lives of millions of Hispanic students throughout the United States.
Dr. Flores is a master architect and team builder within HACU, throughout the HSI community, across government, business and industry, and throughout U.S. society. I for one can most pleased that the department is continuing its collaboration with HACU. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you President and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Dr. Antonio Flores. (Applause.)
MR FLORES: Buenas tardes.
AUDIENCE: Buenas tardes.
MR FLORES: Buenas tardes. Thank you for those very kind words, Josue, and of course we’re very proud of your career. He is obviously one of more than 15,000 placements that HACU has been able to over the years have with federal agencies of top-notch talent from our institutions. But buenas tardes and good evening.
Before I go on to my brief remarks, I want to acknowledge my colleagues who are here tonight because it’s them who make everything happen in HACU. I just stay out of the way and they make it happen. (Laughter.) Dr. Lena Rodriguez, who is our senior VP for policy and government relations here in D.C., is here with us. (Applause.) Ben Melano, senior executive director of the national internship program that we have at HACU. (Applause.) We have a good friend, colleague, and president of Glendale Community College in Arizona, Dr. Terry Leyba Ruiz (applause) and Norma Jean Garcia, who is our executive director of communications in San Antonio. Thank you all for helping us. (Applause.)
Secretary Blinken, Assistant Secretary Satterfield (laughter), distinguished guests and friends, as we approach the end of Hispanic Heritage Month this weekend, and of course of the playoffs later in the month (laughter), it is only fitting that we do it with a homerun. And of course we are doing it in this magnificent venue, the Benjamin Franklin Room, under the seal of the United States of America, with the motto, “E pluribus unum.” And then that basically means, “Out of many, one.” And we gather to celebrate the historic signing of a comprehensive memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of State and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, HACU.
HACU represents the 559 Hispanic-serving institutions, or HSIs, across the nation, and collectively these institutions serve 5.3 million college students from all walks of life, including 67 percent of the 3.8 million Hispanics in college today. HSIs are the backbone of Hispanic higher education and a major pillar of America’s workforce development.
The MOU that we are about to sign will facilitate new opportunities for HSI students and graduates in the Foreign Service, in the civilian labor force of the State Department, as well as in study abroad programs and internships.
Mr. Secretary, on behalf of HACU and its nearly 600 member colleges and institutions across the country and its affiliated universities in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain, I thank you most sincerely for your foresight in signing this MOU, but also for your tireless leadership to promote America’s values and democratic principles. I also would like to thank Assistant Secretary Satterfield for her invaluable support and guidance in the framing of the MOU, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Rosenzweig for his steadfast assistance to our HACU team under the leadership of Dr. Lena Rodriguez to bring us to this point.
Mr. Secretary, I am deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity to cosign this MOU with someone who personifies America’s vision of a more peaceful and just world on behalf of President Biden. And I thank each and every one of you in the audience for joining us to celebrate the signing of this transformational MOU between the U.S. Department and – Department of State and HACU.
Thank you. Muchas gracias. (Applause.)
MS GUZMAN: Buenas a todos. It is an absolute honor to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with all of you who care deeply about equal opportunity and work hard to support the Hispanic community. I am Susana Guzman. I am especially proud to stand here today as a first-generation American with a mother from Barranquilla, Colombia, and a father from Oriente, Cuba, who migrated to Miami, Florida in the ‘90s, and as a graduate of two Hispanic-serving institutions, Florida International University and Miami-Dade College. I know firsthand the life-changing opportunities that HSIs provide to their students.
As a beneficiary of Pell Grant scholarships and a scholarship that allowed me to study abroad, much like the State Department’s Gilman scholarship which offers students like me international experiences, my experience informs the work that I do today as a program officer at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Western Hemisphere Bureau to focus on inclusive education. I understand the importance of opportunities and of mentorship. In fact, it was during my internship in ECA in 2015 that I first aspired to be a civil servant after a day of shadowing our former assistant secretary, Evan Ryan, whom the Secretary knows very well. (Laughter.) We all have that in common, those of us that have spoken today, so we are honored to be here.
Secretary Blinken was sworn in on January 2021, and since then he has worked to carry out President Biden’s foreign policy agenda in a complex world. While doing so, Secretary Blinken has created and enacted policies that reflect his and the administration’s belief in the paramount importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, integrating DEIA into all that we do, from our foreign policy to our exchange programming to our workplace. That makes me so proud to work here at the State Department. Muchas gracias, Mr. Secretary.
Con mucho orgullo, with much pride, let’s welcome our 71st Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good evening, everyone. Buenas tardes. Welcome, welcome, welcome to the State Department. Welcome to the Benjamin Franklin Room. He’s gazing at us right now. (Laughter.) I like to remind people that Benjamin Franklin was our first diplomat. He signed our first treaty. He charted the Gulf Stream. He helped pioneer electricity. He gave us our ethos of self-government. And virtually none of this did he do while sober, so – (laughter) – I’m not sure what the lesson is, but I share it anyway. (Laughter.)
Susana, thank you for the wonderful introduction, but thank you especially for your service here at the State Department. We are so proud and pleased to have you among us. You did a wonderful job. Thank you. (Applause.)
And Dr. Flores, my thanks to you for your partnership and for your leadership of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. I want to recognize also those at the State Department who have helped support and grow this partnership, including members of our employee affinity group, the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies. Thank you. (Applause.)
I am delighted to sign in a few moments this new memorandum of understanding during Hispanic Heritage Month, when we honor generations of Hispanic and Latino people who have served in every part of this department – from diplomats strengthening our alliances and partnerships, to development experts administering aid and expanding economic opportunity, to locally employed staff who are the lifeblood of every single embassy we have around the world and notably in our hemisphere, which I just spent some time last week in Colombia, in Chile and Peru, and saw the remarkable people that we have working with us in our embassies from those countries.
But it’s also an opportunity to look ahead, to look ahead to the future of the department and how we can make it as diverse and inclusive as possible, because Susana is right: this has been at the heart of my mission since I’ve been on this job.
This is not only a matter of doing the right thing, it’s also doing the smart thing. And I know this every single day. We’re operating in an extraordinarily diverse world. The greatest strength that we bring to the table is our own diversity. Our diversity makes us stronger. It makes us smarter. It makes is more creative. It brings different perspectives, different viewpoints, different experiences to every single problem we have before us. If we don’t take advantage of that, we are quite simply tying our own hands behind our back. It makes no sense, and we are determined to make sure that we have a Department of State that truly reflects the country that it represents.
Today, we’re taking an important step in actually advancing this mission by reaffirming what has been a two-decades-long partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. The institutions that make up HACU embody one of the best parts of our open, democratic society: the pursuit of knowledge, of education, of scholarship. Hispanic colleges and universities are home to researchers working to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time that are going to affect the lives of millions of people, like developing innovative methods for removing carbon dioxide from atmosphere, finding new treatments for cancer. The institutions are training tomorrow’s microbiologists, their labor economists, science teachers, psychologists, and yes, diplomats, among many other fields that are enriching our communities and also enriching our lives. And they foster a vibrant exchange of ideas not only among us but also across borders; for example, sponsoring students studying international business in Japan, sending students and faculty to learn about renewable energy in Costa Rica.
The MOU that we’re signing this evening affirms a continued collaboration for the next five years. What does that mean? Well, it means that we’ll keep working together to recruit students, to recruit faculty, to recruit staff from HACU colleges and universities to participate in our exchange programs around the world, like the Fulbright Program or the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship. We will continue strengthening the pipeline from HACU institutions to careers in diplomacy, including through internship programs like the one, as we just heard, first brought Josue to the State Department. And by the way, my mom says the same thing to me. (Laughter.)
To reach these goals, we’ll continue to collaborate with exchange program alumni, we’ll promote participation in symposia and conferences, we will visit Hispanic-serving institutions.
If you look at it, there is real progress to show for our efforts over the last 20 years both within this department and beyond it. Since HACU and the department signed the first MOU together 20 years ago, the number of Hispanic and Latino employees at State has grown from 4 percent in 2001 to 8 percent of employees today. And broadly, between 2000 and 2019, the number of Hispanic and Latino students from the United States who’ve studied abroad has nearly doubled.
So these are positive trends. They’re good, but not good enough. We have work to do to make sure that this department and our programs look more like the country that we serve and that Hispanic and Latino students have the same access, the same opportunity, as their peers, whether in their studies, whether in academia, or for that matter anywhere in the world.
And the truth is in neither of these categories does the representation of Hispanic and Latinos fully reflect their share of America’s population. So that tells us that we have work to do and we are working to change that, led in part by Ambassador Bernicat who is here, who directs our work for us, recruitment and retention efforts, and Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley. Gina, are you here tonight? Not sure if you are, but Gina is doing remarkable work. She is our first chief diversity and inclusion officer. I had the privilege of naming her to a job that we instituted, and she is helping to build a department that attracts but also retains a team that reflects our nation.
One of the things that we’ve found over the years is even when we’ve had some success in bringing under-represented parts of our country into the State Department, we don’t always do such a good job in retaining them. And one of the things we’re working on is making sure that we do, that we better understand why different groups may choose to leave and abandon an investment they had made early, and how we can continue to change and evolve our culture to make sure that it is the most welcoming place for everyone.
Our collaboration with HACU will also continue to foster ties beyond the United States with students, with scholars, with communities across our hemisphere through our 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative. Some of you may be familiar with this. With this initiative, the State Department is working to expand study abroad opportunities for students across the Americas so that we can build stronger ties between our nations and spur inclusive economic growth for the entire region, from the bottom up and the middle out. One way we’re doing this is by offering grants to universities to help them develop their own exchange programs.
HACU institutions have been some of our biggest partners in this effort. If you go back to 2014, one-third of the grants that the State Department’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund has awarded have gone to teams that include at least one HACU institution. With these grants, Hispanic-serving institutions have forged strategic partnerships and relationships with partners across the Americas, hosted students from across the Western Hemisphere here in the United States.
For the participants, the ties that are formed with our nation through individual friendships, through areas of research, cultural and community connections, what we’ve seen is they often last a lifetime. And in many ways, nothing better benefits our foreign policy and our place in the world than these relationships. These lasting connections, the affinities that they create, the understanding that they help to deepen – these matter.
And one thing that’s always fascinated me, and Assistant Secretary Satterfield who is leading our efforts knows this very well, if you go back and look at the history of our exchange programs in bringing students, young scholars, other young people from abroad to the United States, including from the Americas, what we’ve found is this: we have a pretty good track record in identifying people who are going to go on and play incredibly meaningful roles in their own countries and in their societies.
Through the history of our exchange programs, we’ve had more than 52 people who went on to win Nobel Prizes, 400 or so who became the presidents or prime ministers of their countries, thousands who became leaders in academia, research, the sciences, culture. And when you’re building relationships with an extraordinary group of people at a young age, and they develop a real connection with the United States, there are few things that matter more in actually building very positive partnerships for people who are going to be leaders in their countries.
So this really matters to our foreign policy. It matters to our place in the world. (Applause.)
So simply put, it’s my pleasure, Dr. Flores, to be here tonight, because we’re grateful. We’re grateful to HACU as a partner, and now we look forward to continuing our work together for many more years to come.
With that, we actually get down to the real business of the evening – (laughter) – and that is signing the MOU. So Dr. Flores, please, join me.
MR FLORES: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s going to be effectively witnessed. (Laughter.)
MR FLORES: Very nice pen. (Laughter.)
(The MOU was signed.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It is now official. (Cheers and applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SATTERFIELD: Thank you so much, and this concludes our program. Please enjoy your time this evening in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms where so much history, including tonight, has taken place. Thank you so much and have a good evening. (Applause.)