This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Hainer Sibrian’s desire for a career as a U.S. diplomat was ignited while studying in Egypt during the Arab Spring, where he recognized the same democratic ambitions and thwarted dreams that had gripped the El Salvador his father fled in the 1980s.
“A lot of what I understand about the world is shaped through the perspective of the Salvadoran Civil War and my father’s experience in it,” he said.
Sibrian, M.P.P. ’20, described his parents’ early struggles in the United States. After arriving from El Salvador, his father was undocumented in Los Angeles, living in a car with his cousin. When Sibrian and his siblings were young, his mother, an immigrant from Mexico, cleaned offices and hotels in East L.A.
Eventually, his father moved the family to the Atlanta suburbs so he could take a job installing hardwood floors, which he built into a successful business. But Sibrian was always aware of his family’s minority immigrant status, and he increasingly focused on issues of inequality and opportunity, at home and in the world.
After Sibrian’s ROTC scholarship to Tulane University was upended during his freshman year by the federal budget sequester, he returned home and enrolled at Georgia State University. During his senior year in 2012, he landed a scholarship to study a foreign language abroad in 2012. He chose the American University of Cairo.
“I chose to study Arabic because I was seeing U.S. policy in the region taking on a character that seemed to mirror in a lot of ways the actions that were taking place in Latin America in the 1980s,” he said.
Sibrian saw the Middle East as a region “consistently regarded as expendable by the powers that be, in particular by the United States, where the focus was almost entirely counterterrorism.” And he concluded that “the costs to the populations in Iraq and Egypt were not going to be different from what was going on in Latin America.”