Madame Ambassador: SB Native tells of her state-level experience


International Ambassador and San Benito native Rebecca Gonzales (right) presents U.S. Government-donated PPE to Lesotho’s Minister of Health, Motlatsi Maqelepo. (Courtesy photo)

Although she has seen the world, International Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales still treasures her small town of San Benito.

Nominated and appointed by President Donald J. Trump, and by and with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, Gonzales was appointed as the official, “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho,” on November 21, 2017.

As a child in a military family, Gonzales became accustomed to travel at an early age. Her father, Jose Rene Gonzales, joined the United States Air Force after graduating from the University of Texas. Colonel Gonzales dedicated his life to serving his country and is now buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Her mother, Estella Balli, attended Texas Woman’s University and became a schoolteacher.

As both her parents were San Benito natives, Gonzales lived in San Benito while her father would serve on unaccompanied tours. She remembers attending Fred Booth Elementary School when her father was on a remote tour during the Vietnam era.

Peace Corps
Seen is Gonzales (far left) at the 50-year Peace Corps Anniversary with former Lesotho Prime Minister Thabane and their Majesties. (Courtesy photo)

“My fondest memories of San Benito are the times I spent with my great grandmother, great aunts, grandparents, and extended family. They would visit us often and I learned a lot from listening to them as we sat on the porch (which was our regular gathering place). I also have lovely memories of playing with my cousins and the children that lived in my neighborhood. After my father completed a tour we would always return to San Benito for R&R and I can still remember how excited I felt when we would arrive in the Valley, and I would see the towering palm trees and see the places that were close to my heart. Decades later, I still feel that excitement when I go to San Benito – even to this day. I feel especially proud when I see San Benito residents trying to make a difference and serving their country – whether it’s through the military, public service, or through individual actions.”

It was Gonzales’s exposure to different localities and cultures that influenced Gonzales to look towards the Foreign Service.

After graduating from The George Washington University, she began working as a GS-3 clerk-typist at the United States Department of State. She held several Civil Service jobs and went to graduate school at night.

Gonzales joined the Foreign Service in 1992 and served in various capacities in Panama, Greece, Colombia, India, Saudi Arabia, Botswana, and South Africa. In Washington, she also served as a Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Management and as Post Management Officer for the Levant.

As Gonzales tells of her acculturation to Lesotho, she says they have a saying in Lesotho that goes, “Motho Ke Motho Ka Batho,” which means a person is a person because of other people, a philosophy Gonzales has really taken to heart.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gonzales now does most of her work virtually, but before the pandemic, a typical day could involve a meeting with His Majesty King Letsie III to discuss issues of concern, engaging with the Lesotho stakeholders to advocate for U.S. businesses, meeting with implementing partners to make sure that people living with HIV/AIDS had access to health care and medicine, talking to people and trying to help them address the stigma and discrimination they may face; and maybe visiting a United States supported clinic, Peace Corps volunteers, or a local school they built.

“The most exciting part of my job is to engage with people,” she said. “I’m really a people person and I always remember Maya Angelou’s saying: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But they will never forget the way you made them feel.’”

The last time Gonzales was in the Valley was in 2016. She expressed that she is excited to visit San Benito, as soon as international travel resumes.

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Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length. To read the full story, click here or grab a copy of the Sept. 4–10, 2020 issue of the NEWS.

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