NYU student Saisha Kappor on US Ambassador to Spain and Andorra visit to NYU KJCC

Julissa Reynoso visited NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center on October 25th. She is a Dominican-born, American attorney and diplomat, and in January of 2022, she was appointed as the United States Ambassador to Spain and Andorra (she is the former US Ambassador to Uruguay). Several NYU students and faculty had the privilege of hearing her speak about her work, as well as her life story, in a meet-and-greet event organized by Jordana Mendelson and Lara Nettelfield.

Reynoso had just arrived from Washington DC, and yet she still made the time to speak to students passionate about her line of work. “At the embassy in Spain, we have about 600 people who work there. There are several consulate offices in Spain for folks who travel there, and lose their passports.”, she said with a chuckle. She has a sense of humor, but also surety and confidence which elevate her speech. “In addition, Spain hosts a large US naval presence. There are thousands of military personnel and their family members, living and working with the Spanish to ensure that we are securing our interests; everything from gauging security in the Mediterranean to helping Europe and NATO combat the Russian military.” Reynoso is passionate about the connection between the United States and Spain, and considers it to be an extremely important partner of the United States. She describes three different factors which exemplify the importance of the connection between the United States and Spain: shared values (including human rights and democracy), economic and commercial interest (companies from both countries investing and creating jobs), and rule of law and security (both countries are NATO allies, and are focused on combating current global threats). Concerning rule of law and security, Reynoso explains what much of her day-to-day work consists of, and that a lot of it has to do with supporting Ukraine; from discussing Spain’s military assistance to Ukraine to learning about Spain’s experience welcoming more than 150,000 refugees since the war began. “Also, we have to focus on the impact of the war, and a lot of it has to do with energy security”, she explained. “We have to think about ensuring a situation in which Europe no longer depends so much on Russia to be able to take care of its citizens. Right now, Spain is facing high inflation, primarily driven by electricity and energy costs. Also, we are working on issues involving development in Africa, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, given the history of Spain in that part of the world.”

Reynoso is passionate about the connection between the United States and Spain. It is a country which she loves and knows well. “People in the Spanish government have been very open to the United States, and to working with us.”, she said. “There is a friendly feel there, and a lot of interest in working with the Biden Administration.” One of the co-hosts mentioned how special it was to her personally to see another Afro-Latina woman as an ambassador in Spain, and asked her to describe what it had been like assuming the position, especially given her identity. “I am an immigrant, and my parents were undocumented, and yet here I am today!”, Reynoso said. “I don’t know what it’s like to not be me. It’s hard to compare. I kind of just go with it, and I don’t really think much about it. Frankly, I’ve had a harder time in the United States than in Spain; I’ve had a couple of instances in Spain where people could not believe I was the ambassador, and they happened to all be American.” Reynoso went on to describe how she had felt happily surprised assuming her position as the ambassador, and did not find herself facing any issues. She felt comfortable. “Being the US Ambassador gives you a certain power that negates some of the issues that may emerge from the fact that I’m not the ‘typical looking’ being; the ambassador is the ambassador. Also, I find that I have an advantage in being able to talk about certain topics which other people of color may not be able to discuss.” In response to another co-host, who asked her about how she felt having to face plenty of “firsts”, being an Afro-Latina, Reynoso said that it’s something that doesn’t really matter to her. Or, rather, she doesn’t let it. “I grew up in the Bronx, and we always say ‘Don’t believe the hype!’”, she said with a laugh. “So, I don’t believe the hype. I have a job, and I just do it. I keep at it, and I think that’s gotten me to where I am. I find the noise out there to be distracting. I think it’s helpful to show folks that there are people who look like us in these positions, but I don’t dwell on it too much. I have too much work to do.”

While her cultural identity is important to her, Reynoso emphasized that she is a hard worker, and that’s a stronger part of her identity. This is evident, especially in her work regarding migration. “We work closely with the Caribbean and Latin America, and part of it is focused on developing assistance, and understanding the root causes of economic need.”, said Reynoso. “People migrate because there is economic need. Spain already offers migrants specific work opportunities; for example, Spain may need strawberry pickers in a certain part of the country. So, they try to find out how to recruit people from Latin America to do that work, so they aren’t forced to leave their homes, and risk their lives trying to cross a border. Instead, they can go to Spain legally.” Another important focus of her work has been finding alternative providers for energy in Spain (other than Russia), and finding ways for Spain to be more sustainable as a country. She mentioned that the United States has become an increasingly large source of energy for Spain, and that a new initiative connecting France, Spain, and Portugal was in the works, to ensure that gas would come to these countries through an underwater pipeline, and it’s meant to be used with green hydrogen, so it can be environmentally friendly.

Later on, Reynoso emphasized an important facet of her line of work, and what makes one in that field successful: “My trick when you do political work, is to stick with the person you’re working with until the end. No matter how they do the first time, as well as the second time. I’ve worked with people who had lost, and yet still, I stuck with them.” To Reynoso, loyalty and humility are necessary parts of her job.

Saisha Kapoor is a junior studying International Relations and Data Science at NYU. She is interested in different global matters, as well as different cultures and languages. She writes for NYU’s Washington Square News.