story BY: JOSEPH TREVINO
She’s on a mission.
Carmen Landa Middleton, the number four person on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hierarchy, is the top Latina in that organization. Her assignments, posts and missions have led her all over the world during her 31 years with the CIA, but her latest venture could be the defining one of her storied career: Carmen uses her seniority to help support CIA’ s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
As the senior most Latino, she has been very proactive and visible in reaching out to the Latino community to discuss opportunities at CIA, dispel misconceptions, and share her story about rising through the ranks to become the Deputy Executive Director of CIA.
As far as diversity is concerned - the CIA’S goal is to have a diverse workforce reflective of the US population. And that is precisely what Middleton intends to achieve by creating an awareness among Latinos that the CIA is a diversity friendly place.
The scarcity of Latinos runs across the federal workforce, Middleton says. Latinos may have to jump many hurdles, including cultural ones that are preventing them from looking into the CIA as a place where they can build a career.
“So much of the reason why we don’t have strong Hispanic representation at the CIA is because they just don’t know it’s a possibility,” she says.
Spanish is a beautiful language
Middleton’s parents were of Mexican origin. Her father had been a Marine during World War II and her mother worked in a factory. Her father became a Los Angeles County surveyor and was able to provide a near-middle-class life for the family in the confines of L.A. County, bordering with Orange County.
Growing up in a diverse neighborhood where there were few Latinos, her parents, who spoke Spanish, insisted that little Carmen and her brother speak only English. These were the times long before the Latino Boom of the late 1990s and even other more assimilated Latinos looked down being bilingual or speaking Spanish on.
“The reason they never wanted their children to have an accent was because the accent would be revealing of your background,” Middleton explains. “My parents did that and their brothers and sisters did the same thing with their children to protect their children growing up in California, because they knew there was discrimination, there was bias.”
Once in high school, her Spanish teacher fascinated Middleton, who showed the class slides of her time in Spain. With good grades, she applied to major in Spanish at UC Santa Barbara, just like her teacher. Her father was not amused.
“He didn’t talk to me for a couple of weeks. I think he wasn’t so mad at me, but I think he was mad at himself,” she recalls, laughing.
Middleton and her family had not been out of California. She was attracted by travel and getting to know the rest of the globe.
“I knew there was a bigger world out there; I knew I wanted to travel. I wanted to be a teacher.
All my role models were teachers. I was not surrounded by people who were professionals. I didn’t know business people. My worldview was very murky in terms of my aspirations. I knew there was something better out there for me, but I couldn’t pinpoint it,” she says.
She attended college (the first in her family to do so) and visited Spain. After graduating, her goal was to find a job as a Spanish teacher and in the meantime took a part-time job at a jewelry store at a mall when she saw an ad in the L.A. Times that advertised jobs with the CIA.
To her surprise, she was called. She applied and passed the examinations.
“It was just dumb luck. I didn’t have any real good idea, I’m not even a spy fan, I didn’t watch the James Bond movies, I didn’t like any of the Bourne Identity books, it’s just not my taste,” she recalls. “I did know they were focused overseas; I think that was the global mission plus government service. It was extremely important. It was instilled in me and my brother.”