We're now more than halfway through Hispanic Heritage Month, which extends from September 15th through October 15th. So, in honor of those of Hispanic heritage here in Southwest Florida, WGCU is featuring local Latinos from across the region — from all sorts of professions, genders and backgrounds.
Today, you'll hear the story of a woman whose childhood led her to her career in law enforcement.
Hi, my name is Yadi Perez-Luna. I’m with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. I’m a sergeant. I’m assigned to the Youth Services Division. I am from the Dominican Republic. I was born in a city called Santiago, and I migrated to the United States when I was 9 years old.
Celebrating our culture, our diversity, our food, our music, our people – that’s what Hispanic Heritage Month is all about, making sure that we take all those Latin countries and we bring them together, for at least just a month, and then get to enjoy and get to see the different cultures represented by different people, just from different countries.
America is the land of opportunity, and we come from the Dominican Republic, a very poor country, especially where we’re from. My mom had two kids, no husband – migrated to Venezuela and, from Venezuela, came to the land of opportunity: America.
So, after being here for a couple of years, she had the opportunity of marrying someone, getting her papers and bringing us in – bringing us to America. I came straight to the Bronx. I remember like now – 198th Street and Valentine’s. It was 1979. I was 9 years old, didn’t speak the language at all. It was really scary. Everything seemed so big, so many people, so modern – like, in the movies. Couldn’t understand a word anybody was saying to me, except for my mom.
I had to actually walk to school. That was scary. I never walked to school, especially coming from the island. I mean, we used to have busses at the time. And, my mom, while she worked here, she was able to send money there, so I was in a private school.
You know, all Hispanics were pretty much living around in the same area at the time – a lot of Dominicans and a lot of Puerto Ricans where I grew up.
1980s, that’s when the drugs start hitting the Bronx. That’s when you saw crack. That’s when you saw a lot of things. We were exposed to that by the neighborhood that we lived in.
So, we saw – I saw, personally, a lot of my friends, especially when we got from middle school to high school, a lot of them either died or got killed.
Coming from “the hood” – as you call it – you see a lot, and there was a lot of fire in me to do what was right for people. So, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to become an attorney to defend people’s right. Eventually, with time, I didn’t end up being an attorney, but I ended up being in law enforcement, which is around the same family.
At first, I started as a corrections officer. Then, I went into the court system. I saw exactly how the court system works, especially down here in Lee County. I saw a lot of repeat offenders – not only in the jail system, but also in the court system.
My goal was always to help kids. I have my own, and I have three boys. So, I was always on top of them.
I seen a lot of mistakes, and a lot of poor decisions that they made – not necessarily my kids but their friends. And, one of the things that I always tried to do was always to mentor and counsel our youth. I mean, they, at the end of the day, become our leaders.
So, getting involved with the Lee County Sherriff’s Office gave me the opportunity to get involved with the youth services division, which I love. I think it was my God send message to say, “Save someone. Save a life.” And, somewhere along the line, I feel that I have touched quite a few lives.
Being a Latina actually does, does help a lot. I’m able to reach out to parents. I’m able to understand the culture. I’m able to understand where they come from, the questions, their fear.
I know there was a time that we needed people to speak the language, and I could hear them on the radio. And, I’m the first one that goes over the radio and says, “Have them call me. I’m here, you know, to translate whatever is needed.”
So, being a Latina in this community, it is – oh my goodness – it’s a privilege, but it’s also so helpful with our people.
Lee County Sheriff's Office says it is pushing to become as equally diverse as the community it serves. When this interview was conducted, the Office wanted to be sure to include that it is looking always looking for more voices like Sgt. Perez-Luna.
LCSO encourages anyone interested in job opportunities to visit sheriffleefl.org and click "Join Our Team."