“I can see that the sadness has returned. And it’s not a beautiful sadness- beautiful sadness is a myth. Sadness turns our features to clay, not porcelain.” ― David Levithan, Every Day

Maami Babka was always sad, even when she was happy. Her heart had been lost along the way somewhere, perhaps in Slovakia or perhaps with the ghosts of her family. Her eyes were always distant, as if looking for the heart that was already lost. She spoke sparingly and when she sang, her gravelly voice dragged rough over our emotions.

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Becoming Indian

This past week the “International Roma Conference and Culture Festival 2016,” was held in Azad Bhavan, New Delhi, India, which purportedly “officially validated for the first time” the Indian (and Hindu) origin of the Roma. Looking at the conference brochure, some of the attendees listed surprised me (and some did not). What surprised me the most, was the sudden insistence that we are children of India and a push to reconnect us with “sister communities” in Punjab and Rajasthan and comments by respected Roma, such as Jovan Damjanovic the president of the World Roma Organisation- Rromanipen that, “recognition from the Indian authorities will be the first step towards countering the negative perceptions about the Roms.”

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Empty windows

I was born here.

Or rather, close to here, further up the valley.

A late February snow dusted the roofs and children scuttled between the shacks gathering wood or water. At least that’s what I was told. I remember visiting with Maami and Bibi Lemija, standing a while up the valley, reminiscing about the osadas that no longer existed. The ones that were replaced by trenches and tanks during the war. The ones that vanished in smoke and screams.

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How Will You Honour Them?

Today marks the United Nations International Day of Commemoration of Victims of the Holocaust. For only the third time in its history, there will be a Romani/Sinti speaker. Please show your support. Wear red. Take a moment of silence. Share your photos, videos, and memories.

A thin blanket of snow lay on the window sill and the 4am sky sat heavy above. I could smell the warmth of bread from the kitchen and the fire chattered in the living room.

“It’s time,” Maami said

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bisterkerel / Always Forget

Our response to the collective traumas that befell our people mirrored that of the states in which we lived – suppression and denial. Just as we moved on with our lives, so the nations around us moved on with theirs. After the Holocaust, my family did not know what to say to one another. How do you talk about something so horrific? Metaphors about hungry smoke, wolves, and butterflies trickled through their conversations, but nothing was really ever said outright. They simply pushed it away, deep in the corners of their collective mind.

Similarly, we have consistently been erased from Holocaust history and remembrance. Politics of memory – suppressing remembrance of these traumas by burying them deep in the political system – assigned our experiences to oblivion.

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A house without wheels

Our Romani never had wagons, at least not that I remember. We had broken down shacks and cottages with patched up roofs and gaping holes for windows. We’d had it good for a while, the elders said fondly. Many had worked for the landed elite around the castles and estates such as Halič, Spiš, Svätý Anton, or Vígľaš. It was tough but decent, they told us, for a while at least. But, as with every other place we stayed, laws were passed against us – for example, fingerprint collections (1925) and a law about wandering Roma (1927). My family were lucky, they said. Nestled in the mountains between Slovakia and Poland, laws were slow to drift over our villages. Some of them already left, Maami said, even before the first war came.

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The Monk and the Mountain

Papu told me that once you wrote a word down, it lost its power. Once it was written there, on the page, it couldn’t be molded or tempered. Our language, he said, only existed in the air and could never be captured and if anyone ever did, the words would vanish. He told me a story about a monk named Baldemar, a bateris – a monk who did not reside in a monastery – instead he travelled the world writing stories. One day he came to the Romani settlement in the Ondavská vrchovina Mountains, near Bartva (Bardiów/Bardejov). …

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A Plate Full of Stories

All of my stories begin, “my grandmother told me”. Her ‘talk-stories’ filled up my life like the whiskey she secreted in teacups. My mother rarely features in these stories, but she had a different way of telling, a quieter, less direct way. My parents met when our families were down in Staffordshire, around Stoke-on-Trent (they stopped there for several years). My mother had a job at that time….

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My Grandmother Taught Me

My grandmother taught me

the taste of the sky

her chapped lips grasping at straws

and cigarettes.

Her voice curled around me like water, arms muddy and warm like a river bank.

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Author of the Month: Alija “Ali” Krasnići

Ali (Alija) Krasnići was born in 1952 in Crkvena Vodica, a town near Obilić in Kosovo. He never questioned his identity as Rom and his mother tongue, Gurbet-Romani; they were a natural and central part of his life. In this sense, Krasnići is a tradition-conscious Rom. However, he does not consider the traditional values of his forefathers nor Romani as something static which cannot be subject to change.

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The Passage of Time

These few weeks have been hard ones for me.

Jaj, de pro khoča man tuke mangav,
de odmukh mange, so me kerdjom.

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Author of the Month: Emil Cina

Emil Cina was born on 13 December 1947 in the Libeň quarter of Prague. His forebears came from Slovakia, from Kurim u Bardějova, where they owned agricultural estates and made their living trading horses. Mr Cina is the nephew of the famous Romani author Ilona Lacková. He trained as a milling-machine operator in the Auto Praga factory in the Vysočany region and after his military service, during which he was a tank operator, he delivered coal around Prague for 20 years with his brother and father.

“Through my poems I do my best to inspire Romani people not to forget Romanes. This is our language. It’s what keeps us together, which is why I do my best to preserve it,” Mr Cina said

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bokhale mulenca / with hungry ghosts

The traumas my family suffered were like pebbles – hundreds of smooth, round, grey pebbles – stacking wearily on top of one another. This one a beating by the Hlinkova Garda; this one a week without food; this one a squalling baby gone silent and bloated in the night; this one and this one the SS Einsatzgruppen; all of them adding to the weight of their lives. Some were jagged – memories of loved ones faces, torn in terror; Dachau; Dysentery – cracking the smooth facade of life after.

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Run – denašto

I’ve been thinking, thinking about running.

Maami and Papu fled the Holocaust, the hungry smoke nipping close at their heels. Viewed with suspicion and hatred, they weren’t welcome anywhere they set down. My father, born in the ragged blood-red dawn of a post-War world, fled the memories and the sadness in his parents eyes.

Baba and Papo fled their culture, hiding in the anonymity of assimilation. My mother, born in the smoke of bombed-out houses, fled the broken reality that surrounded her.

I ran too. Three hundred dollars, two suitcases, and one chance. I fled the suffocating, stagnant breath of arranged marriage, illiteracy, and poverty. I ran more than eight thousand miles on the promise of freedom and education.

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Books. Words. Lives.


Our spirits are made of songs and our hearts are made of gold. We live in abject but picturesque poverty. We fear God and the police. We are passionate and indestructible.

We are childish, exotic, backwards, barbaric. Genetically averse to hygiene, education, and employment.

Nomadic, wild, primitive.

The embodiment of difference; of other.

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"Mi del o Del,
kaj te barol the
barvaljol amari
romanji čhib,
so lakere šukar lava
kovljaren o jilo,
u lakere godjaver lava
phundraven e godji.
Mi lakere gule
lava ačhaven
bachtalo drom
maškar o

"Oh Lord, let our
tongue grow
and flourish,
the tongue whose
beautiful words
make our hearts melt,
the tongue whose
wise words
open our minds.
Let its sweet words
build the
road to happiness
among people."

~ Milena Hübschmannová

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