LOS ANGELES A friendly African woman stopped Mark Paredes on his way out of a Los Angeles cafe recently to let him know she overheard his mealtime conversation. She apologized profusely for eavesdropping, but thanked him for the insightful comments he made about her country during his breakfast meeting.
Far from being offended by her interruption, he was excited to have an opportunity to speak to someone from Africa. He shook her hand warmly, and engaged her in a lively conversation about her homeland. The woman beamed as they spoke, and when the conversation was over, it was clear he had made a new friend.
"I really love people," he said, as he left the cafe for his office. "Working with people is the very best part of what I do on my job. I learn so much from them."
A member of the Wilshire Ward, Los Angeles California Stake, Brother Paredes is a former U.S. diplomat who now serves as the press attache for the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate. He commented that for as long as he can remember, he has been fascinated by all kinds of people, their cultures and their languages. This interest motivated him toward a career in diplomatic work, where he constantly feeds his curiosity about other people, and uses the seven languages he learned (English, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, French, Italian and Portuguese) to accomplish some important goals.
"When I was 5 years old, I remember watching a program about the world called 'Big Blue Marble,' " he said. "I became fascinated by language and culture even then. By the time I was in high school, I was studying Russian and wanted to see the world."
He sent in his mission papers after high school, and was thrilled when he was assigned to serve in Italy. He learned Italian well enough to return to Italy after his mission to work as a journalist. After a short stint in Milan, he returned to Utah where he attended BYU as a Spencer W. Kimball Scholar, majoring in Italian and working as a language instructor.
After graduation, he attended law school at the University of Texas, and clerked in Rome for a while, but made a decision not to finish his course of study. He thought a legal career would limit his interests, so he took the U.S. Foreign Service Exam, and passed it with flying colors. He was immediately fast-tracked into a diplomatic position at the U.S. Embassy in Guadalajara, Mexico. At the time, he was in his mid-20s, and the youngest diplomat in the Foreign Service.
He traveled throughout Mexico, polishing his Spanish language skills as he engaged in his consular duties. Despite a busy schedule, he managed to find time to work as a soccer commentator, and volunteered with an organization that supported a Mexican orphanage. He described it as a "great life."
After two years in Guadalajara, he was called back to the United States to prepare for a new assignment. As he drove to Washington, D. C., he said he felt a special spirit following him as he passed through each small Mexican town.
"Even now, I feel nostalgic for the people of Mexico," he said. "They are truly among the warmest people on earth."
There was not much time for reminiscing when Brother Paredes returned to Washington. He was immediately placed into a total immersion Hebrew program in which he was one of only two students assigned to three instructors. After six months of intensive study, he was given an assignment in Tel Aviv. There, he lived with the heightened state of alarm caused by constant war. He traveled around the country, working with people of all backgrounds and faiths, trying to improve relationships and promote positive interests.
After two intense years in Tel Aviv, Brother Paredes returned to the United States. "I developed a profound love for the people in the region Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. I was very pained by the sad political situation in the area, and wanted to do more to help."
Brother Paredes decided to accept a position as the press attach for the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate, where he now works with the Consul General within the seven western states covered by the consulate. His duties are broad, and include monitoring the press, attending events, speechmaking, serving as an outreach into religious and ethnic communities, and assisting foreign VIPs during visits.
Even though he is very busy at the consulate, Brother Paredes makes certain to devote time to developing his spiritual and creative sides. He holds a public affairs calling to work with the African-American community in Los Angeles.
He has performed in English and Russian theater in addition to acting on television. He is working on revisions of his screenplay, "The Don," which was inspired by his younger brother, Tony, who died of leukemia. The screenplay was accepted by the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and he hopes to see the story produced into a film.
"I was very affected by my brother's life and death," he said. "In fact, my family is a great influence on all I do. I am very close to my mother, Barbara, my sister Carla, and her two sons, Brandon and Jordan, who are the loves of my life."
Brother Paredes looks forward to continuing his work at the Israeli Consulate, particularly in doing all he can to help build bridges of peace and understanding. He is very interested in the impact of the Middle East upon the world, and hopes his efforts will contribute something to making the area a less stricken place.
"I've decided to do all I can to help in any position I hold," he said. "Being a member of the Church will strongly contribute to how I will do my job."