5 Hispanic Americans Who Made Significant Contributions to U.S. Foreign Policy

September 15, 2022 By Rifa Ariella and Coby Jones

September 15 kicks off the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. This month between September 15 and October 15 is dedicated to celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestry comes from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, USGLC is highlighting five Hispanic Americans who have made significant contributions to U.S. foreign policy, diplomacy, and development. We celebrate these Americans past and present and their impact on U.S. global leadership.

Ambassador Mari-Luci Jaramillo

Mari-Luci Jaramillo began her career as an educator but soon became a national and international advocate for education reform and civil rights. Then in 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Jaramillo as the Ambassador to Honduras, making her the first woman Hispanic American ambassador. She served in that role until 1980. As Ambassador, Jaramillo was a strong advocate of U.S. government-funded aid programs and projects and was an avid supporter of the local Peace Corps volunteers. Jaramillo was beloved in Honduras, so much so that the Honduran Government awarded her the Order of Francisco Morazan Medal, the highest award that can be given to a foreign dignitary in Honduras. She was also awarded the Dual Citizenship award for her achievements. Upon returning to the United States, Jaramillo returned to her teaching roots in New Mexico, until 1992 when she joined the Clinton Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Latin America. Ambassador Mari-Luci Jaramillo passed away at the age of 91 in 2019.

Private Joseph Pantillion Martinez

Private Joseph Martinez was the first Hispanic American to posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II. Martinez was born in 1920 in New Mexico and, at the age of seven, moved with his family to Colorado. At the age of 21, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and in 1943, he fought in the final days of the spring Battle of Attu on the Aleutian Island. Martinez and his regiment were pinned down by enemy fire, but he was able to lead several assaults on the enemy. Inspired by Martinez’s bravery, other men in his company followed his lead. Martinez suffered from a head wound in this battle and unfortunately died on the battlefield. It was due to Martinez’s efforts, however, that Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Island ended. Martinez’s bravery in this final battle is why he received the Medal of Honor. He is buried at his family home in Colorado.

Romana Acosta Bañuelos

Ramona Bañuelos was the first Latina American Treasurer of the United States, appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Bañuelos was born in Arizona in 1925 to Mexican immigrant parents but was deported to Mexico in 1933 during the Great Depression despite being an American citizen. She returned to America as an 18-year-old single mother and settled in Los Angeles. Bañuelos was born with an entrepreneurial spirt and soon turned a tortilla making business into a multimillion-dollar Mexican food company called Ramona’s Mexican Food Products, Inc. She also helped establish the first Latino-owned bank in California after several Latino men in her community approached her with a proposal. With the success of her food business and as the chairperson of the successful bank, Bañuelos caught the attention of Richard Nixon who appointed her to the post of U.S. Treasurer, making her the highest-ranking Mexican American in the government at the time.

Ambassador Raymond Telles

Ambassador Raymond Telles has a long and decorated history of serving his country. First, Telles was a colonel in the U.S. Army, earning a Bronze star for his service in the Korean war. He also served as a military aide for Presidents Harry Turman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. After his service in the armed forces, Telles went on to become the first Hispanic mayor of a major U.S city when he was elected mayor of El Paso, Texas, his hometown, in 1957. A very popular mayor, he easily won re-election in 1959. Then in 1961, President Kennedy appointed Telles as Ambassador to Costa Rica from 1961 to 1967, the first Mexican American to serve in that role. Telles opened the door for wider participation for Mexican Americans in U.S. politics and with his passing at the age of 97 in 2013, he was honored for his great contributions to the Mexican American community, the United States, and peace around the world.

Major General Angela Salinas (USMC, Ret.)

Major General Angela Salinas is a trailblazing Latina woman serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as the first woman in multiple assignments including Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego/Western Recruiting Region; Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans and Policy; and Commanding Officer of a recruiting district during her 39 year military career. After retiring from the Marine Corps, in 2015 she joined the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas as CEO, where she saw the parallels between building the leaders of tomorrow and the leadership required in the Marines.  In 2016, Salinas was inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Women in Leadership Hall of Fame. In 2021, she received the American Spirit Award Medallion from the National WWII Museum, and she has been named one of 15 Phenomenal Women by Latina Magazine.