Breaking down barriers
Resident from Romania smashes stereotypical roles for women back home by pursuing her dreams in the U.S.
WhenDana Cotroneo joined the Garland County Sheriff’s Department in 2016, she was surprised to be promoted to the criminal investigation division after only two years. Originally from Simleu Silvaniei, a small town in northeastern Romania, Cotroneo has called Arkansas home for over eight years. She initially joined the ranks of the sheriff’s department as a deputy at the Garland County Detention Center.
Cotroneo said moving to the United States offered her the freedom to obtain her dream career she believes she was made to do. But there have been challenges. “Developing a thick skin takes time and effort. If you don’t have it in you then you’re not going to make it,” Cotroneo said. “You can’t take anything personally, and I’ve been called every name in the book, been spit on and, even worse, things thrown at me.”
Cotroneo said she never experienced a dull moment during her service at the jail. “The days that everything has been ‘too good,’ you’re watching your back waiting for what’s on the way,” she said. “I’ve done everything from booking, to intake and housing with both female and male inmates.”
Though she said she feels like she’s seen it all, Cotroneo acknowledged she hasn’t patrolled the streets. She said she feels fortunate to have had the Garland County Detention Center experience as her current title is the jail investigator.
“There are actually good people in the jail. You end up forming a certain kind of relationship; some of them have even made me birthday cards,” Cotroneo said. “I’ve learned these inmates are just people that were often at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Though she holds two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and fashion design from her home country of Romania, she said she knew she would end up following her dream career. She obtained her associate degree in criminal justice from National Park College, which she said was challenging due to a language barrier.
Growing up as an only child in Romania, Cotroneo said her mother discouraged her career path primarily because she was concerned for her safety. Though her father was in the military, she said her intention to work in the law enforcement field was of her own accord.
“Females are often seen as weaker than men. My mom wanted me to have a Monday through Friday desk job. She just didn’t want me in danger and wanted me to reconsider and was concerned because I am a girl,” Cotroneo said.
“I’m not sure if it’s true for all of Romanian culture, but I do feel like my family believes that the role of the woman is just to work in an office,” Cotroneo said.
Initially moving to the U.S. as a student, she said her parents expected her to return home, but once her relationship became more serious with her Arkansan boyfriend, now husband, she ended up calling Arkansas home. She said the Romanian community is prominent in Hot Springs and was glad to form a circle of friends in the Spa City.
Now the mother of a young son, Cotroneo said though they try to visit Romania every couple of years, she would prefer to help her parents visit the U.S. more. Cotroneo said that while she often feels the small town nature of Hot Springs can be challenging, she plans to settle in Arkansas for some time.
“My hometown is very similar size to Hot Springs and it is very beautiful here,” she said.
Like Hot Springs, Romania is also home to thermal waters with numerous spas around the country frequented by tourists seeking purported medicinal benefits from the springs. The Carpathian Mountains create a similar geography to Arkansas. Simleu Silvaniei, Cotroneo’s hometown, sits in a valley at the base of verdant hills surrounded by rolling fields. The town dates back to before the Roman Empire.
Controneo said she is grateful for her roots and her culture as she believes Romanians have a strong work ethic.
“Romanians don’t settle. I want to better at what I’m doing every day, there is always room for improvement,” she said.