National News

Guatemala opens consulate in Oklahoma to serve growing population

Posted June 20

— Rebeca Vicente had planned a road trip to Houston to renew her passport at the Guatemalan consulate. But when she heard that her homeland had just opened a new consulate in Oklahoma City, Vicente was spared the 450 mile weekend trip and simply drove down the street.

"This has saved us a trip and money, lots of money," said Vicente, 20, who moved to Oklahoma from Guatemala when she was five.

Monday marked the first official day for the new consulate in Oklahoma City, which is one of 19 across the country and offers Guatemalan citizens access to official documentation and other services.

Under Guatemala President Jimmy Morales, who attended an opening ceremony in Oklahoma City on Sunday, the new consulate is part of a strategic effort to double the number across the United States and open offices in communities where the Guatemalan population is large and growing.

The Guatemalan government estimates more than 25,000 Guatemalans live in Oklahoma and another 10,000 in Kansas, which will also be served by the Oklahoma City consulate.

"Oklahoma is considered a very strategic state for us right now," said Ambassador Jose Arturo Rodriguez Diaz, who was tapped by the Guatemalan government to manage the Oklahoma City consulate.

"For us it is very significant due to the growth of the Guatemalan population here in Oklahoma but we are also the first Latin American country to establish a consulate here."

Located in a high rise on Northwest Expressway, the consulate is near a part of the city where a large number of Guatemalans live. The top six ZIP codes for Guatemalan residents in central Oklahoma are in northwest Oklahoma City, which is home to several Guatemalan restaurants and grocery stores.

The consulate is the first official consulate to open in Oklahoma and enhances the state's status as a global community, said Chris Morriss, director of international relations with the Secretary of State's office.

"Any time you have a consulate it just opens wide the doors for communication with another country," Morriss said. "You get to know people on a business level, cultural level and there is just more cooperating interest."

Ambassador Rodriguez said the new consulate was also an opportunity for his government to highlight Guatemalan culture across the state.

"Our role, besides giving documentation to Guatemalans, is also giving information to the people of Oklahoma and promoting tourism, business relations and strengthening the relationship (between Guatemala) and Oklahoma," Rodriguez said.

Sen. James Lankford was in Oklahoma City on Sunday for the consulate opening and said it was significant for the region, especially since foreign consulates are typically found in much larger cities.

"It's a message to the rest of the world that Oklahoma is open for business," Lankford said. "Clearly, (the Guatemalan government) see this as an area that is a growing area with economic advancement."

Lankford has traveled to Guatemala to discuss issues of security and immigration. He was also invited to speak at last year's Guatemalan National Prayer Breakfast.

He said his trips were unrelated to the consulate opening, but added the U.S. and Guatemala work closely on issues of undocumented immigration and the illegal flow of cocaine.

The Guatemalan consulate in Oklahoma City is located at 5909 Northwest Expressway. The office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on the first Saturday of each month. Appointments are required.

Contributing: Staff Writer Justin Wingerter.

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