Catherine Rodriguez, who leads the Consulate General in Lahore, Pakistan, is a Cuban American who grew up in Miami and has served in a variety of roles in the Foreign Service – both at the Agency for International Development and the Department of State. She was a Colin Powell Fellow. She has a Master’s degree in Accounting and Business from Florida International University and a Master’s from Columbia University in Environmental Science and Policy.
Tell us about yourself and your Cuban heritage.
Both my father and mother were born in Cuba and came to the United States at the dawn of the Castro regime in the early 1960s. Like many Cuban refugees, it was hard for them to leave everything behind and begin a new life. America welcomed them, and over time they built a successful small business. Miami, my hometown, represents the crossroads of many cultures. Growing up in the city’s vibrant setting brought lots of fun times enjoying the beach, going to the theater, and appreciating the rich Miami food experience. Visitors often experience a slice of Cuban culture by having a Cuban Coffee, visiting Little Havana, and eating pastelitos.
What are some of the Cuban traditions that you recall from when you were a child?
Like many Cuban refugees, my parents were torn between two countries, worrying about the fate of family members left behind. For them, adapting to a new culture, mastering a new language, and trying to make it financially were daunting challenges. Family and friends were central to surviving and thriving. I enjoyed learning about their experiences in Cuba, listening to the music, and seeing our common experience play out on a show called Qué Pasa, USA? about the Cuban refugee experience.
My parents insisted we fully integrate into American society while retaining some of our traditions. I grew up in a bilingual environment, experienced childhood milestones such as my quinceñera and learned the art of entrepreneurship working in my parent’s business.
How have your Cuban roots affected your career and outlook on life?
Growing up in multicultural Florida and hearing my parents’ stories profoundly influenced my path towards the Foreign Service. One of my proudest moments was being asked to be the principal speaker at a swearing in ceremony for new U.S. citizens. I invited my parents who sat in the auditorium and watched new immigrants take the same oath they had taken almost 50 years earlier. We are a nation of immigrants, and it is important to hold on to cultural touchstones. It is also important not to be insulated or limited by them and to venture beyond those boundaries and experiences.
Emerson had it right: life is a journey not a destination. This career has given me the opportunity to see the world, serve my country, and pay it back for its generosity. I channel my rich Cuban heritage and American values to showcase the diversity that is America. They are part of my diplomatic toolkit as I try to deepen our relationship with other countries and further America’s foreign policy.
Why is a diversity of cultures important to the U.S. government and the Foreign Service?
America is a very diverse place and the federal workforce needs to reflect that – not only in terms of race, sex, religion, and origin but also in terms of educational background, geography, and culture. The way we were raised, the languages we grew up speaking, all of these things profoundly impact how we view the world. So, bringing in a diverse workforce means more perspectives, a fresher and wider view on the world.
One of the challenges to promoting diversity in the Foreign Service is that many people in our country have never heard of the Foreign Service. When I tell people what I do, I cannot tell you how many people have confused it with the Foreign Legion (a French military unit). I did not even know about these opportunities until I heard about them in college.
There are many ways you can serve our country, but I believe that the Foreign Service is one of the most exciting and rewarding. The question I often ask people is ‘how do you want to remember your life many years from now? Will it be living in the same town, going to the same job, seeing the same people, or do you want something more – adventure, travel, and a window on history? If you want to learn more, check out https://careers.state.gov/work/available-jobs/
About the Author: Catherine Rodriguez is a Foreign Service Officer who currently serves as our U.S. Consul General in Lahore, Pakistan. She has held positions in the Department of State and USAID. She earned graduate degrees from Florida International University and Columbia University.