The work done by diplomats in the U.S. consulates abroad to make travel safe and easy for Americans often goes unnoticed, but for one Kimberton native, it's his life's work.
Hugo F. Rodriguez Jr. was recently named consul general of Mexico City. Rodriguez, who has worked with the State Department for many years, including overseas as a U.S. Diplomat, is looking forward to his forthcoming position.
Rodriguez, son of Dr. Hugo and Gayle Rodriguez of Kimberton, grew up on a farm, the oldest of six children. Rodriguez graduated from Kimberton Waldorf School in 1984 and then attended Hampden-Sydney College before continuing on to the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. He has worked extensively overseas with the State Department in many different countries including Mexico, Peru, Italy, Iraq and India.
Most recently, Rodriguez has lived in Washington, D.C., with his wife Karen, who is also a foreign service officer, and their two daughters. He has served as a bureaucrat there within the main State Department, which is headquarters for all U.S. embassies and consulates overseas.
He has spent the last two years working in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs as the Deputy Director in the Office of Mexican Affairs, focusing on the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Mexico.
As Consul General, Rodriguez will be living in Mexico City, and his position will be at the U.S. Embassy located there. He will be in charge of Mexico City and the Consular District.
'The State Department is divided between foreign service and civil service,' said Rodriguez. 'I'm foreign service, which means that half to two thirds of my career is spent overseas at embassies and consulates abroad, and the rest is back in Washington generally.
'I am Consul responsible for our Consular Operation in Mexico City and the Mexico City Consular District, which is basically the southern half of Mexico. We are co-located with the Embassy.'
Rodriguez said his job in Consular Operations entails helping U.S. citizens in Mexico with all manner of affairs, such as births, hospitalizations, arrests and passports issues.
'Our primary job overseas in any foreign country is the care and protection of American citizens,' he said. 'People who are traveling abroad or American citizens who reside abroad, we are there to support, care for and protect those individuals. A big part of our focus in Mexico is taking care of those citizens.
'We also do all of the visas. Mexicans who want to travel to the U.S. for pleasure or to visit family, or work or study, all of them come through our Consular Operation. My officers will interview them for their eligibility for visas. All of that happens under my watch.'
Rodriguez, who previously served in Mexico 15 years ago, said it is a fascinating place and he is looking forward to returning to the warm, family-oriented culture there. He added that he enjoys the great food.
He is also focused on strengthening relations between the U.S. and Mexico.
'Mexico City was a really great opportunity for us. I have been working on Mexico issues for the last two years, I am already up to speed on a lot of the things that are happening in Mexico,' he explained. 'It made sense in that way for the bureau to assign me to Mexico City, and it also made sense for us. My wife, as a foreign service officer in management, there were good opportunities for her to work in Mexico City as well. She'll be the senior human resources officer at the Embassy.'
Rodriguez continued, 'The thing I am most looking forward to is that it is a really important relationship for the United States. To have a role in moving that relationship forward, continuing to deepen our ties and our cooperation with Mexico. From a consulate perspective, it is a very important location. Our number one job overseas is the protection of American citizens abroad, and it is the number one destination of Americans traveling overseas.'
Rodriguez attributes much of his success to the years he spent at the Kimberton Waldorf School, and the importance of developing harmonious relationships it fostered amongst its students.
'I think growing up in a small community and going to Kimberton really helped to make me sensitive to people,' he said. 'The school was a small school where you really got to know everybody and I think that the business I ended up in is very much about relationships with people. Even though we talk about the U.S. and Mexico as these large, federal systems, the success of that relationship is really founded on the success of the interpersonal relationships.
'Kimberton Waldorf School really laid the groundwork for me in that regard. It's really about caring for the people around you and the importance of that empathy for those who are traveling with you on the same journey, and the value that everybody brings to what they do. I absolutely think the foundation I got at Kimberton was important to being good at what I do now.'
Rodriguez said it is great coming back to the area to spend time with his family before returning to an overseas position.
'It's an honor and a privilege to represent the U.S. overseas, but you really miss being back in the U.S. These are my last few days here before heading back overseas and I'm trying to absorb as much of this as I can, because once I'm overseas, these are the things you miss so much,' he said. 'You miss being around family and friends, you miss the smells and the sights, you miss the local food. You can't replace it. I feel like in a sense, you try to hold onto as much of this as you can for the two years you're overseas until you get back and can enjoy it again.'
The extended family has enjoyed spending time together on the Rodriguez farm in Kimberton, before Rodriguez's departure to Mexico City.
'Very proud of him, always very proud of him,' remarked his father, Hugo, Sr.
His mother, Gayle, agreed. 'He has always made us proud, in whatever endeavor he chose. No matter where he goes, I know he is doing good work.'
Editor's Note: Mr. Rodriguez provided the interview in a private capacity and therefore the views expressed are his own views and not necessarily those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.