Break­ing down bar­ri­ers

Res­i­dent from Ro­ma­nia smashes stereo­typ­i­cal roles for women back home by pur­su­ing her dreams in the U.S.

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Re­bekah Hedges, pho­tog­ra­phy by Grace Brown

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.

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