When I joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1990, I used to joke that all my South Asian-American colleagues and I could fit comfortably at a table for four. With my brownish skin, unruly hair and seriously non-Anglo-Saxon name, I didn’t resemble many foreigners’ vision of an American diplomat: white, male, perhaps with a monocle to finish off the look. While serving at U.S. embassies in Jamaica, Egypt, Syria, Oman or India, I often was taken to be a local—a mix-up I would use as a teaching moment, to explain that anyone, regardless of color or origin, could become an American and aspire to join our diplomatic corps. A young Syrian’s reaction captured the usual outcome of such exchanges: “The fact that you’re an American diplomat is what I love about America.”
The above excerpt was originally published in Politico Magazine.
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