'Want them to be accepted': Meet the new head consul for Indiana's Mexican Consulate

Leticia Teramoto is used to being looked at like a foreigner.

When she walked through the streets in Mexico City, where she was born and raised, her status as a “Chilanga” – the Mexican slang equivalent for Hoosier – didn’t automatically register.

When she traveled to Japan, where her parents are from, her status as a “Nikkei” – a person of Japanese descent without Japanese citizenship – wasn’t immediately apparent.

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When she entered the halls of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a female consul – one of few – her power and prestige as a career diplomat weren’t expressly acknowledged.

But Teramoto’s differences only appear to have emboldened her.

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Teramoto, 52, arrived in Indianapolis in July to begin her term as the first woman to ever be head consul at Indiana’s Mexican Consulate.

Although the consulate has existed in some form since 1908, the official location downtown opened in 2002, aiming to service Indianapolis’ fastest-growing racial and ethnic group.

Teramoto has a very clear goal for Indiana’s Mexican immigrant community.

“I don’t want them to feel accepted,” Teramoto said. “I want them to be accepted.”

‘We can be subject to double discrimination’

For Teramoto, it’s not enough to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos or dine at the city’s numerous Mexican restaurants, it’s about building an infrastructure for Mexican immigrants to thrive.

An infrastructure that faces some distinct challenges, she said.

“In the case of the Mexican community, we can be subject to double discrimination,” Teramoto said. “Not only because of skin color or the way we look but also because of the immigration status.”

Many arrive without documentation, she said, heightening their susceptibility to abuse.

When speaking about the community she’s here to serve, she uses language like “protect and defend.”

“People having the ability to ID themselves,” Teramoto said, “is the first step in protecting themselves.”

Although providing ID is a primary responsibility of the consulate, she said, protecting her community means more than handing out passports, birth certificates and other forms of identification.

It means: Protecting due process on the occasion a Mexican immigrant is wrongfully arrested and convicted because of a language barrier; protecting those that are US-born from unlawful detainment and deportation; extending relief to Mexican immigrants in Ohio and Kentucky, states her consulate also oversees, after natural disasters.

It also means protecting women from domestic abuse and aiding them to safety, a critical message today, Teramoto said, as domestic violence peaks.

“I would like to push for the Mexican women in the tri-state area to be more empowered to overcome the situation,” she said, “with our help.”

Protection against injustice and abuse can bridge the gap between feeling accepted and being accepted, bringing Teramoto closer to her goal.

“I really wish to see a Mexican community more integrated into the Indiana circle of life,” Teramoto said, “in all ways possible.”

Contact IndyStar reporter Brandon Drenon at 317-517-3340 or BDrenon@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonDrenon.

Brandon is also a Report for America corps member with the GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world.

Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to IndyStar to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

If you would like to make a personal, tax-deductible contribution to his position, you can make a one-time donation online or a recurring monthly donation via IndyStar.com/RFA.

You can also donate by check, payable to “The GroundTruth Project.” Send it to Report for America, IndyStar, c/o The GroundTruth Project, 10 Guest Street, Boston, MA 02135. Please put IndyStar/Report for America in the check memo line.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: ‘Want them to be accepted’: Meet the new head consul for Indiana’s Mexican Consulate

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