An Interview with the Consul of Mexico, Mariana Diaz-Nagore
Happy Hispanic Heritage month! And so far, what a lucky month it has been. Not only because of the fact that this Wednesday, I leave for Nevada to compete for the honor of being the first Mexican-Indian Miss Teen USA, but that in the same month, I was able to interview someone truly life changing. As most of you know, on March 19th of this year I was crowned Miss New Jersey Teen USA, but out of everything that has made my reign so special, what sticks out to me the most are the amazing people that I’ve been able to meet along the way.
Which brings me to today’s change-maker, the intelligent and the insightful Mariana Diaz-Nagore, Consul of Mexico. As if the timing couldn’t be any better, just a few days ago on September 16th it was Mexican Independence day! But most importantly, the reason this interview is so special to me is because my dream is to one day become an United Nations ambassador, and after listening to Consul Diaz’s passion for her work, I found that so much of what she talked about aligned with the future I see for myself.
A week ago I had the privilege of interviewing Consul Diaz at the newly built Mexican Consulate in New Brunswick, a town with the second largest population of Mexican immigrants in New Jersey. According to World Population Review, as of 2023, New Jersey is ranked 9th in the country for the largest hispanic population at 20.43%. Despite this, the building is the first Mexican consulate EVER in New Jersey. Prior to its creation, Mexican nationals had to make the trip to Philadelphia or New York City in order to
get help from Foreign Service, a deterrent not only because of the distance but the financial burden as well. That is, until Consul Diaz and her wonderful team established the New Brunswick Mexican Consulate.
Upon walking into the consulate, I immediately felt welcomed, and with the building’s open-floor plan, it is impossible not to learn something new. The Foreign Service officers greeted me with a smile, brightly painted walls were adorned by the beautiful Mexican flag and traditional artwork, common motifs everywhere I turned. The epitome of innovation, an antique bank vault from the original building had been revamped into a conference room and even members of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) who had come to talk to workers in the community for worker’s rights week were present.
It seemed as if everything had been thought of. And soon I found out, it had been. In the span of an hour, Consul Diaz weaved the story of her life right in front of my eyes; from her childhood, her education, and how she was able to turn a dream into the building I was now interviewing her in. However, in the first five minutes I knew immediately that she was a true visionary, her eloquence and intelligence leaving no other option for me but to hang on every word she said. Without further ado, here is a glimpse into Consul Diaz’s story of change, hard work, and service.
“ Starting from the very beginning, what were your childhood and college years like? Was there a defining moment that led you to where you are now?”
A fact which she coincidentally shares with my mom, Consul Diaz was born and raised in Mexico City. “I come from a family of strong women. Together, we’re three sisters and I'm the youngest”. I could hear the tenderness of which she talked about her family. She told me she had been brought up to always try new things, pursue new interests and I swear she was describing me when she said, “I kind of liked too many things. I liked law, I liked history, I liked, you know, too many things!”. Which is extremely relatable for most of us who are still navigating highschool. And being a teenager. But you get the gist. Being the youngest, she watched as her oldest sister pursued engineering, and her second sister became a lawyer. When she said this, the first thing that came to mind was a running joke from, surprisingly, my other heritage: that in an Indian family there is always a lawyer, an engineer, a doctor, or all three. I guess Consul Diaz is indeed desi approved! But back to her family, Consul Diaz, had other plans. “No one in my family had considered a career like mine, they’d never even thought about living abroad let alone moving every few months as a diplomat must.”
I gathered that there were two main influences that led Consul Diaz to go into international relations, one a matter of circumstance, and the other a matter of the heart (which I guess basically proves that both Nurture and Nature are equally important, but I digress). The first influence was her ties to the United States: “My upbringing was interesting in a sense that I was always close to the United States because I would frequently visit my family there, so I grew up speaking English.” However, the thing that ultimately pulled Consul Diaz in the direction of diplomacy, is also behind the authenticity that makes her truly special. In her words, “what motivated me was the immense love that I feel for my country. It's truly an honor to represent Mexico abroad and serve the communities that I’m stationed in. That’s what made me realize, yes, I want to do this.”
Once she decided to pursue international relations, there was the question of what aspect of the major interested her most. “I began to ask myself, did I want to do international business, learning about trade and finance, or did I want to do something more political. I just always thought being a diplomat was amazing.” Those however weren’t the only questions. She told me, “To join the Foreign Service, especially in Mexico, it’s quite competitive. People would often ask me, after I told them what I studied, “Oh, but who do you know?” I didn’t know anybody.”
Still, she refused to let that deter her, instead making sure that she had the best grades possible in order to receive a scholarship for her masters. Consul Diaz attended UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico), the largest public university in Mexico, just like her sisters had, finishing her BA in International Relations and Affairs with 9.9 GPA out of 10. Only one B in her entire career! I was floored, she was clearly the standard that every honors kid strives to achieve.
However, her ambition did not finish there. “Halfway through my studies, I thought to myself, I know the U.S well and it’s familiar. Why don’t I study in England?” So that's what she did. How? She believes that she achieved the nearly unachievable by simultaneously studying for her degrees, while working for the Mexican Senate. “I thought that if I could present myself as a well rounded individual, with my BA and Masters, balancing good grades with my work, that I would be able to get a scholarship. Like many other times in my life, I just,” she paused, “made a plan.”
Out of 800 vetted applicants competing for 40 spots, Consul Diaz received one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world, the Chevening Scholarship, given to her directly by the British Council of the University of Cambridge. For those of you who don’t know, with a 22% acceptance rate, the University of Cambridge is ranked eighth in the WORLD for best universities. “I didn’t want my family to have to contribute financially to my studies, so I think the moment my life changed was when I moved
to England to study my Masters.”
I always remind myself that change is growth, growth is continual, and self improvement is infinite, a motto which I may have created, but that Consul Diaz absolutely embodies.
What drove her big move was the appeal of experiencing a different education system than what she was used to. From the University of Cambridge she received her master in philosophy, which she says is more research than anything else. Again, she shifted her focus, now setting her sights on the Foreign Service, and accruing the letters of recommendation she needed to apply. “If you have a plan, you’ll get there. So I thought, okay this is my opportunity because I’ve done everything I set out to do.”
US: After school, how did you begin your working career?
Consul Diaz’s Foreign Service application, as mentioned previously, *obviamente* was a success. Defying the odds yet again, out of 1,300 people who applied that year for the Foreign Service, she was one of 40 who secured a spot. When I asked her how she felt, she shared a quote from one of my dad’s favorite stoics (insert joke about the Roman Empire trend).
M: “I used to say, oh, I’ve just been very lucky, very lucky, but I read a quote by Seneca not too long ago: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Then things coincide, but it's not something that just happens. You make it happen. You take opportunities and you work hard, that’s the only way to do it.”
U: “To the outside it must seem like this career just happened to you, but a lot of people don’t know the preparation that it took. I’m so glad that you’re taking the time to share this with my readers and I because this kind of transparency is not something you see often.”
M: “I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my daughter: nothing falls from the sky. Nothing. You have to work hard.”
Ok now reread that people. For all of my fellow overachievers, overthinkers, over-whatevers, I promise you that things don’t come at the drop of a hat, to you or anyone else. Thank Consul Diaz for her wisdom, because let me tell you this is a great lesson to learn the easy way, and NOT the hard way (sincerely, procrastination afflicted ‘gifted’ kid).
In the past twenty years as a diplomat, what has been your favorite position and most memorable experience?
“I was actually talking to my husband about that recently, and really you’re going to say, what a boring answer…” she started. (Just to be clear, I think she and I have very different definitions of boring, because Consul Diaz could easily sell wood to a beaver.)
“I’ve loved every place I’ve worked. You just have to try to find the good in the experiences that you are faced with, and be grateful. I'm so grateful to be doing what I love.” But she says, the people she works with are very important to her: “You have to be open to learn and have the humility to learn. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed a lot in my career, working with different people, learning from them, and getting to know my community,” because they teach her how to “be a better public servant.” Funnily enough, Consul Diaz has solely been posted throughout the United States, quite unusual for diplomats, who often have more diverse (although at this point, I don’t know how much more diverse Consul Diaz can get) careers that span multiple continents. “But it’s not a coincidence, Mexico has the largest consulate network that any country has in another country. I mean, this is the 53rd consulate we’ve opened in the US alone.” Although, she clarified, this does not mean there is a consulate in all 51 states, since they are built depending on the size and needs of a specific community. With this she says, “In all the communities I’ve worked in, from Denver, to Washington, to Virginia, to West Virginia, to Maryland, and now New Jersey, not one of them are the same. Why? Well the common denominator is that we’re all Mexicans. So some might stop at that. But no!”. Consul Diaz goes on to say that the concentration of Mexican people that come from a specific state is different; for New Jersey that happens to be people from Puebla and Oaxaca. But one thing we can both agree on, is no matter the difference in culture and customs, the people of Mexico are truly vibrant.
However, one of the places she worked at stuck out to me the most. Consul Diaz mentioned that she had worked in Washington for seven years, the longest of any of her positions. “I love that city. I loved the team because I saw the difference it makes when everyone is working towards the same goal. And my boss was my biggest supporter. The luckiest you can be is when you have somebody that pushes you to go further, and lets you know when you’re in your comfort zone. My boss at the time told me, “You know what you’re doing, you do it well, but you can do more, aspire to be more.” She said that he is what first got her thinking about being the head of her own consulate. Although at first hesitant - and who wouldn’t be with such daunting responsibility - she thought she would be lucky to have her own team some day. Fast forward to now, here she was sitting in front of me, the Consul of Mexico. She went on to tell me how thankful she was for her position in Washington, “A lot of the things I learned in Washington, I apply here. When things work, you have to replicate those things, what I like to call ‘best practices’.”
What was the biggest challenge starting the consulate from the ground up?
“I think my 20 years working at consulates have given me the tools I needed to do this. Without having prior experience, I don't think I would have been able to put it together. I had to decide everything, the location, getting the team ready, and hiring the team. Also, everything had to go through our headquarters in Mexico City, so it wasn’t solely my decision either and I had to get approvals.” But something she said earlier in the interview resonated: “Life is all about decisions, and we have two choices: sink or swim.” You can imagine what option she chose.
Consul Diaz had nothing but kind words about New Brunswick and its residents, “I love it and I’m thrilled to be here”, but the problem she had faced was that very few spaces met the vision she had for the consulate. It was important for her that the consulate would be in a location that was easily accessible to the community, “so that they would be able to either drive, take the train, or the bus”, and also representative of the pride Mexican people felt for their heritage. When describing the experience she wanted people to feel, Consul Diaz’s face lit up and her eyes had something reminiscent of a spark behind them: “When they walked in, they’d say, ‘This is where I belong, my government cares about me as an individual and wants to meet my needs.’” Earlier I had mentioned that there was something new to learn around every corner,
which Consul Diaz had done intentionally. She joked, “I am definitely not an architect!”, but what I found was that she is a doer. “I had an idea and with teamwork, we are able to provide a space that allows people to walk, to ask, to feel.” Throughout the interview it was abundantly clear that no matter the countless long nights she had to work or the challenges she encountered, Consul Diaz was willing to do whatever it took for the consulate to become the lighthouse that the hispanic community needed to brave a tumultuous ocean.
The second step for Consul Diaz was to build her dream team. Watching the consulate grow to what it had become, she felt it was important that the people she worked with felt as passionate as she did about helping the Mexican community. Reaching out to colleagues she had made from her previous positions and interviewing every applicant personally, I then asked Consul Diaz what she looked for in a candidate: “I spent at least an hour talking to each one because quality service is key. Somebody that greets you with a smile, that has empathy, that sees when somebody is vulnerable. I asked them, "Do you have this vocation to serve?” because I felt that’s what the community needed.” I had noticed this when I first walked in, everyone at the consulate seemed genuinely happy to be giving their time to help the Mexican community. She continued, “I needed people who would provide the community with the consular service that they deserve, but that helps them connect with other resources, because everyone has something they carry; a pain, a need, grief.” With a current total of twenty seven Foreign Service officers and four diplomats including Consul Diaz, these numbers will grow to twenty nine and six respectively, once the consulate is finally complete. Although in Consul Diaz’s words, “There is always something that can be improved, and I make it my duty to provide the best experience for the Mexican community.” It seems the work is never quite done!
What is your advice when dealing with a stressful or tense situation?
“Mental health is key. Sometimes we don’t give a lot of time to it, but I think the pandemic showed us the need. This is why in all consulates we have a health desk, ‘Ventanilla de Salud’.”
While the consulates mostly focus on preventative medicine, Consul Diaz is hopeful about the mental health workshops and presentations that are part of the program. “This issue is so important because many people in our community are struggling. With stress, facing the loss of a loved one, sometimes even when they’re abroad and can’t go back home, with having many children to take care of as a single parent, so it's important to give the community tools to face their struggles.”
Consul Diaz also makes it a priority to take care of her staff, especially in a job where staff members are likely to handle delicate cases. “They’re people too, that feel and hurt when dealing with delicate cases. People that come to us are vulnerable,” she pauses, and I can see the genuine empathy behind her words. “You see somebody that is grieving, someone with a terminal illness who wants to go back home, someone who is being deported after living here for 20 years. We are human, we feel, so how do we see these cases and not have it take a toll on us?
I tell my colleagues, “¿Quién cuida a la cuidadora?” Who takes care of the caretaker?"
The mark of a great leader is if she takes care of those she leads, and Consul Diaz does just that. She acknowledges the strength and resilience of her team, but she also notes the stigma that still surrounds mental health in hispanic communities, and most communities of color.
What are your personal goals and those you have for the consulate in the next five years?
Consul Diaz wants people to see the NJ Mexican consulate’s creativity, “to say, “New Jersey’s Consulates have done this”, and then other Consulates follow our initiatives”, like the ‘Ventanilla de Salud’ program. “Everybody that visits us should feel like they received the assistance they needed, that they were greeted with professionalism, with empathy, and most importantly a smile. I tell my staff, always remember to give a smile to the people that come to us. I tell them to think about how they would like their mother, their father, their grandmother, or their children to be treated at a government office.” Consul Diaz told me a bit about her day to day schedule, and her devotion to the Mexican community is truly heartwarming. No matter the long hours, she always checks on everyone in the office and talks to members of the community who are waiting for services, welcoming them into the consulate. “You have to really see the person, to really listen, not only with your ears but your eyes as well.”
Consul Diaz also values equality, for women and men to have the same opportunities. She says her success is not about being a woman, but about preparation. “I study and prepare myself for the exams every two years that I have to take to move up my rank, and if along the way I can get other women on board or support them on their journey to their goals, I’m all for it.” During the hiring process, Consul Diaz wanted to have a balance of men and women on her team, saying “I try to bring other women to the table when I can, but regardless of gender, everyone should feel valued, to have their work valued. ” She believes that it is important to share in success, again saying how important it is to always be open to learning from those around you.
Consul Diaz continued, “I encourage women to have sorority, to open a door and develop it for somebody else to come in." That is exactly what she was doing for me, opening a door to a career, that before our interview, seemed almost out of reach. But here she was, giving her lunch to let me interview her, an act of pure selflessness.
As she previously talked about, Consul Diaz recognizes the importance of a good team that is active in its outreach and maintains close political relationships with the governor's office and the local authorities to foster a sense of community. Consul Diaz is currently planning the inauguration of the consulate, which she graciously invited me to, and when I tell you I nearly cried on the spot when I realized I’d be away in Reno and had to decline. She knew this though, yet another special quality about her: she pays attention to detail like no other, and through this, makes people feel heard. So I’ll leave you with this simple, but powerful statement: “I want this office to be the best it can be”.
What would be your advice to a young person like me or your daughter, who wants to follow in your footsteps, or even just be successful?
Somehow I narrowed down the three most important lessons I learned from Consul Diaz during my interview with her (I say somehow because this might have been the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make):
“The first thing you can do is identify what you want. What is your goal? Identify it, and once you do, make a plan. Be perseverant and be aware that not everything is going to go according to your plan.” From my time with her, it was clear to me that not only was Consul Diaz intelligent cognitively, but emotionally as well. She urged me not to get caught up in negative emotions; to feel them yes, to stop and reassess maybe, but never to give up.
“I like to say that I’m a doer, I focus on things that need more time, but I get things done. You just have to keep going. There’s a saying in Spanish: No se me cierran las puertas.” The doors will not be closed to me. Personally, I think this is much better than the English quotes about open doors, because there is something assertive about it, something final, that unapologetically says, ‘I deserve the opportunities that come to me.’
It seems the adage ‘love what you do, and you never have to work a day in your life’ rings true, because that is exactly what Consul Diaz said about her job. “Yes, it's true, some people would probably call me a workaholic”, she laughed, “but when your life has a purpose, then everything feels right. You don’t work a day in your life when you find your purpose.”
Powerful right? Hopefully I will get to see Consul Diaz again very soon… Of course, I want to thank Consul Diaz for letting me interview her, as well as Deputy Consul Hubbard and Xuna who received me so warmly.
I also want to thank all of you, my subscribers (old and new, I don’t discriminate!), for supporting me through everything; name change, dry-spells, crownings, and more. Thank you for giving me a purpose. As always stay updated with That’s Fan Behavior, there might be a special surprise this week from Reno ;)