The U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Richard Buangan discussed his experience representing the United States as a Filipino American, the importance of authenticity and the significance of nuance in public diplomacy at a Georgetown University event April 11.
The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, a part of the School of Foreign Service that explores diplomatic statecraft, co-hosted the event with the Una Chapman Cox Foundation’s American Diplomacy Project, an initiative that seeks to shape the future of the U.S. foreign service.
Buangan said his identity as a Filipino American has shaped his approach to diplomacy.
“I was born and raised in San Diego, Calif.,” Buangan said at the event. “I am a proud American. I had the privilege of growing up in various multicultural neighborhoods and experiencing the cultural aspect that really speaks to our values as a diverse country.”
Buangan said his experiences have helped him better understand the importance of diversity in diplomacy.
“When I was a public affairs officer in Jerusalem, one of the things I always talked about is how powerful it is to have a story of uniting diverse individuals together to serve a common goal of serving the country,” Buangan said. “A common goal is to share the values that make us great so that others overseas can also partake in the richness and diversity of their existence.”
Buangan said he has experienced bias and discrimination abroad because of his identity but never maliciously.
“Interestingly, it’s always been accidental bias and discrimination,” Buangan said. “In a way, those experiences really explain why we need a diverse foreign and civil service, and for those who serve the American people or do public service, diversity is really our strength.”
Buangan said he is hopeful that the U.S. Department of State will continue improving its staff in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA).
“I think we’ve made tremendous progress,” Buangan said. “When I first joined, there was no such thing as DEIA. It was only an interest, not an intentional strategy to diversify our ranks. Over the past decade, we are diversifying more than we have ever been. It speaks well to our recruiters who are actively identifying possible employees across the country, not only just the Northeast.”
Buangan said that when he was a junior officer, there was no recourse for when he felt hostility from someone in a senior position. Now, there are resources available to employees who are dealing with hostile superiors.
“I was always told to shut up, don’t say anything,” Buangan said. “But over the last few years, the department has done a very good job of being able to articulate employees’ rights and supervisors’ responsibilities of creating an ethical, welcoming environment. That is something that did not exist when I joined the foreign service.”
Buangan said it is important for diplomats to be authentic and to represent their country and its people through nuanced conversations about controversial issues.
“You are still an American,” Buangan said. “You still should find moments where you can say, ‘As an American, I personally have a problem with the Second Amendment, gun control or issues happening in the newspaper.’ When you talk from personal experience, you can find a way to still talk about the official U.S. government policy.”
Buangan said public diplomacy is important for shaping the perception of the United States abroad.
“Public diplomacy, for me, is engaging with non-government people about aspects of the United States, that include who we are as people, the values we champion and U.S policies relating to the current administration,” Buangan said.“Ultimately, what it’s about is engaging, informing and creating an impact on the perception of foreign audiences in the United States, official and unofficial.”