Despite growing up in the temperate clime of Mexico City, Alberto Fierro loved Minnesota from the first time he visited — a Thanksgiving trip to see his partner's family some 20 years ago.
Now, as a seasoned foreign diplomat with a career that has taken him around the world, he still loves it.
The soft-spoken Fierro, 57, is head consul of Mexico in St. Paul. He will preside over a reception Monday night of the 10th anniversary of Consulado de Mexico in Minnesota. More than 400 people, including former consuls Nathan Wolf, who opened the office on June 20, 2005, and Ana Luisa Fajer, will attend. Three people will be given the Ohtli Award, which recognizes people who have contributed to Mexican and Mexican-American communities in the United States.
Fierro's career in Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Service and Ministry of Culture has spanned more than a quarter-century and has taken him to China, Britain, the Middle East and Latin America.
Consular positions range from two to six years; Fierro has been in charge of his area — Minnesota, the Dakotas and northern Wisconsin — for two. Diplomats have little to no say in when or where they move.
"I want to stay a little longer," he said quietly in an interview in his office late Thursday. "But let's see what happens in the future. I'm very happy here."
A consul's job is to assist and protect the citizens of the consul's own country, and to facilitate trade and friendship between the peoples of the two countries. The consulate in St. Paul, in an unassuming brick building at 797 E. 7th St., is crowded most every weekday morning with individuals and families seeking ID cards (matriculas consulares) or birth certificates, registering their children for dual citizenship, renewing passports and seeking health care from a small, partner clinic there.
The consulate's 20 staffers provide notary public services, power of attorney, try to ensure due process for those in legal trouble and work with the consulate's many partners on issues such as domestic violence.
According to the U.S. Census, there are about 200,000 Mexicans in Minnesota, although with those living in the U.S. illegally, that number is probably closer to 300,000, said Deputy Consul Julio César Martinez.
Many of the immigrants in Minnesota are funneled here from the Mexican states of Morelos and Puebla, through word of mouth or family connections.
"That's exactly the way the Sicilians migrated to the U.S. and the Irish migrated to the U.S.," Fierro said. "That's the way the Spanish migrated to Mexico, too."
Given Fierro's background in arts and culture and higher education, he works closely to build links with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and other universities. He's ecstatic about the Minnesota Dream Act, which allows children who aren't legal U.S. residents to receive in-state tuition and financial aid.
Fierro spent the first two years of elementary school in Wilmington, Del., where his father worked for an American oil company. He knew he wanted to go into international relations even before he went to university, where he studied sociology.
"I thought I would love to be a cultural attaché and show the world the richness of Mexican culture," he said.
He did just that in posts in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa, Canada, each for 3½ years, in his 30s. Back in Mexico, he headed the U.S. and Canada desk for the Foreign Ministry, then moved to the Ministry of Culture as head of international affairs. For another three years, he traveled around the world promoting Mexican art and culture with exhibitions in, among other places, London, San Francisco, Beijing and Shanghai.
In order to move up the career ladder in the Foreign Ministry, each person must serve at least three years at a consulate. Back in Mexico, Fierro was appointed cultural attaché at the consulate in New York.
"But I refused. I said if I'm going to do the consulate thing, I want to do the real thing," he said.
He was then appointed head of culture and education and resumed his world travels.
Five years ago, he became consul in Orlando, a little surprisingly. It was supposed to be London, he said, but like an army, the powers in charge changed their minds and sent him to Florida.
When he learned that Fajer, his close friend and predecessor in Minnesota was leaving, he asked to come to St. Paul.
As for the future, Fierro is excited about Gov. Dayton's first trade mission to Mexico, coming up in August. Mexico was the second-largest market for goods from Minnesota; Minnesota had $2.24 billion in exports there in 2014. Ten years earlier, that number was just $257 million.