Next up in our Bureau of Western Hemisphere series honoring Hispanic Heritage Month is a conversation with Mery Arcila, a Vice Consul at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Mery is a Public Diplomacy-coned Foreign Service Officer currently serving her first tour. Prior to joining the Department, she worked at City Year Miami, an AmeriCorps education nonprofit, as a development and media manager for three years. She joined the Foreign Service in September 2018 and is a recipient of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship. As part of her fellowship, Mery interned at the State Department’s Operations Center and in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Mery received a B.A. in diplomacy and international relations from Seton Hall University in 2013 and an M.A. in public administration from New York University in 2018. She was born and raised in Colombia and considers Miami her hometown.
Mery shares his perspectives on his Hispanic heritage in the following Q&A:
Tell us about yourself and your Hispanic heritage.
My heritage, roots and immigrant story are reflective of what the American experience represents for millions of people. I was born and raised in Colombia and immigrated to the United States at the age of eight with my mother. Moving to a new yet very different country at a young age made me seek ways of maintaining my Latinx heritage, customs and traditions while also learning and grasping what it meant to be American. Being Colombian meant finding ways to express the vibrant and beautiful ways of living developed by each generation that came before me. This incredible heritage was part of my everyday life through language, food, dance, music, stories or customs. I am the product of Colombian culture and American idealism, fully encompassed by the word immigrant.
What are some of the traditions that you recall as a child?
Like many immigrants, my childhood was full of traditions from my home country Colombia, but while also integrating fully into American society. This meant that I still learned folkloric Colombian cumbia and salsa, celebrated my quinces, learned to cook sanchocho and arepas from my mother and grandma, and fully learned how to write, speak and read Spanish. Some of my favorite Colombian traditions lie around Christmas. I will always remember and continue to celebrate Dia de las Velitas where we light candles all around the house for the official start of Christmas, take pride in creating a beautiful pesebre (manger), and gather with loved ones to sing villancicos (Spanish Christmas carols) and eat buñuelos (doughy, cheesy and delicious fritters). I hope to continue and share these traditions with many generations to come.
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 desire to serve in the Foreign Service and proudly represent the United States abroad has been directly influenced by my Latinx immigrant experience and Colombian heritage. Every day I am reminded that my accomplishments are directly connected to the many struggles and accomplishments of my people – of my parents who sacrificed everything to provide me with better opportunities, of all of those who were not represented, and of my indigenous ancestors. Thriving while surviving has been at the core of my experience since the day I left Colombia, and I have had to channel this idea everyday until now.
Serving in WHA has provided me an opportunity to further connect with my Latinx heritage. I’ve been able to build a tight knit community, celebrate and engage in a similar culture, and continue to learn about the history of the Latinx community. As a Consular officer, I have been able to fully relate to the excitement of an exchange student eager to learn about U.S. culture, families who have invested so much to reunify with their loved ones, and also dual-citizens who identify with being Dominican just as much as they do with being American. My heritage has allowed me to understand cultural nuances, quickly adapt and deeply engage as a diplomat.
Why is a diversity of cultures important to the U.S. government and the workforce in general?
America’s diversity is its strength. The multitude of perspectives, races, immigrants, sex, geography, religions, food, cultures and more, are at the center of what makes America powerful. It is important to have a workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation we serve, especially in the Foreign Service. Apart from the importance of representation, diversity and inclusion increases the government’s capacity to serve and protect the people that they represent. With this representation we are able to provide equitable and responsive services for the American and international publics.
About the Author: Caitlin Fogarty serves as Public Outreach Coordinator in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.