The Mexican Consulate in Little Rock is one of 50 around the United States. Located in a building along University Avenue since 2007, the consulate just got a new chief this summer.
Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas became head consul of the office in June. He began his career in the Mexican Foreign Service in 1985 and most recently served as consul in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. He's also held posts in Los Angeles, California; Antwerp, Belgium; Milan, Italy and Guayaquil, Ecuador. He is from Saltillo, in the Mexican state of Coahuila. Quilantán Arenas replaced former Little Rock head consul David Manuel Preciado Juarez, who left to work at the Mexican consulate in Fresno, Califonria.
Sitting in his office beneath a framed photo of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, Quilantán Arenas talked about the local community leaders he’s met over the past few weeks: Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner, Mayor Mark Stodola, School Superintendent Michael Poore, Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor, among others.
“We need to work together. That is the only way,” he says. “If we work together, we can achieve many goals.”
Quilantán Arenas says he's also been visiting with leaders in cities around Arkansas and in Oklahoma.
Aside from providing documentation like passports and matriculas consulares, or consular ID’s, to nationals living in the state, the consulate offers legal assistance and sponsors educational programs throughout the year. There are events like a labor rights week, a binational health week and a financial education week. But Quilantán Arenas says the consulate needs to venture out into the community more often.
“The Mexican consulate’s work is not only in the building. We need to go outside. We need to go to places where [Mexicans] are congregated,” he says.
By that he primarily means going into churches and visiting PTA meetings at local schools.
“[We need to] say, ‘hey, we are from the Mexican consulate. We provide these kinds of services. Don’t be afraid to come here.’ Because many Mexicans are afraid to come here,” he says.
Quilantán Arenas says certain myths tend to circulate about what actions the consulate can take, like call the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE. Another myth: that children born to Mexicans in the U.S. are unable to attain Mexican citizenship.
“When we start to talk [to some Mexican citizens say] ‘my friend, my neighbor told me I don’t need to bring my kid….’ We have a lot of myths, a lot of misunderstandings and for that reason we have to go to the places where they are,” he says, noting that the consulate can also serve citizens of other Latin American countries with legal assistance, information about healthcare and in other matters.
Quilantán Arenas also wants to work with Arkansas’s higher education institutions in promoting the Proyecta 100,000, a goal of the Mexican government to send 100,000 exchange students into American colleges and universities by 2018. He also hopes to assist the city of Little Rock as it develops a municipal ID program for undocumented residents.
On comments made by Republican contender Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, Quilantán Arenas says he cannot comment on political matters, but he says “we are working very hard to try and establish particular mechanisms of self-defense.”
By “mechanisms of self-defense,” Quilantán Arenas means the Mexican government and its Foreign Service will be attempting a public relations strategy to promote a positive relationship between the U.S. and its southern neighbor, with hundreds of billions of dollars of trade between the two countries every year as a center point.