Linda James is a special agent serving in the Washington Field Division. She has been with ATF for 10 years and has spent time as a program officer with the Firearms Operations Division and as a liaison with the Criminal Intelligence Division. Before joining ATF, she worked as a Federal Air Marshal for seven years.
Growing Up Strong
James grew up in Bogota, Colombia. She saw Colombia as a beautiful country with rich heritage but was unable to enjoy all it offered because of extreme violence that occurred in the community. She lost many friends and family during tumultuous times, but her and her family moved to the United States when she was 16 years old.
She acknowledges that the challenging circumstances she experienced growing up played a significant role in shaping her character, instilling within her strength, resilience and gratitude for life. A witness to several bombings, these experiences helped James develop a strong determination to protect, serve and acquire skills to stop illegal usage of guns and explosives. Yearning to create a sense of security for others that she, herself, did not feel growing up, she realized she wanted to work in national security.
James’ close-knit family helped her develop deeply held values of unity, service and respect. She fondly remembers cultural traditions such as eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Day, each grape represented one wish for the months ahead. Her grandmother also passed down her own traditions, including telling ghost stories about the neighboring villages. Colombia is known for its vibrant folklore, and James has always been an avid admirer of the country’s unique dances featuring their own story, rhythm and colorful costumes.
She credits her upbringing in Colombia for making her aware of the opportunities that exist in the United States, in addition to the deep love and patriotism she has for this country. “Hispanics can bring a diverse range of values and morals, including a strong sense of respect, honor, integrity, service and sense of family. These values can help to strengthen cooperation, trust, partnership, effectiveness and communication,” James said.
Importance of Diverse Voices in Law Enforcement
People of Hispanic heritage make up approximately 20% of the U.S. population, more individuals are currently needed in federal law enforcement to help foster a diverse workforce. James believes cultural fluency and community understanding become invaluable assets during investigations, crisis management and intelligence gathering. By leveraging these skills, Hispanic members of law enforcement heavily contribute to safer communities by effectively communicating with and protecting diverse populations.
James thinks those of Hispanic heritage and other multicultural backgrounds can bring forth a wealth of diplomatic wisdom, compassionate strength and fierce determination. These tools can empower others to address any challenge with sensitivity, humility and tactfulness. She also believes strong role models are needed for future generations to continue to inspire inclusivity and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Her advice to Hispanic people considering a career at ATF is to fight for their dreams and to be passionate about their cultural heritage. “Always remember where you came from. Use that experience to positively contribute to the development of this amazing agency in its path to fight violent criminals and disrupt violent organizations”, she said. She acknowledges that her cultural knowledge allows her to create rapport with both victims and suspects to solve crimes. Speaking several languages helps her create trust in communities that may sometimes harbor negative feelings toward law enforcement.
Reflecting on the Importance of National Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month holds significant meaning to James as it is an opportunity to honor the rich contributions of Hispanic writers, artists and leaders throughout the history of the United States. The observance of this month serves as a time to reflect on her own cultural heritage, to embrace the richness and beauty of other cultures and to continue to have dialogues that promote trust, understanding and a shared goal of increased safety.