Something Chad said to me in a comment here really started me thinking. When I was a child, no one said to me, “You are Romani”. No one said, “Stand up and fight”. In fact, no one really said anything at all. We were “Gypsies”. That’s what people called us, so that’s what we were. In some cases, we were “gyppos” or “pikeys” or “travellers” – people never sure who was who it seemed. But, I was never Romani. I never heard of the World Romani Congress (founded 1971). I never heard of any organizations fighting for our rights or supporting us. I suppose, I didn’t really hear about anything. No one read the papers, watched the news, or listened to the radio very much. Even if they had, Roma were never high on the list of priorities for anyone – and they still aren’t.
When I look at my life versus, for example, my grandmother’s… there is no comparison. I was born in a hospital. I have a birth certificate (albeit one that was received late and was edited), I was allowed to complete school. I grew up in a house we owned (our families worked in general labour for many years after coming to the UK and my uncles built many of my relatives houses – including my own – it was a way to try and ensure that we got to stay). I was given choices she never had. She was evicted at least 4 times when I was growing up; we were never evicted once. Although they didn’t like it, I wasn’t forced to marry early. My life was certainly not all sugar and roses, but it was definitely better than even my parents own generation. My mother and father had mangavipen (betrothal, engagement) at 14 and bijav (married) at 17. Neither of them completed school, neither of them wanted to.
No one that I knew spoke out; they all kept their heads down, kept separate – lived Romanija and avoided gadže. People just… got on with their lives without much comment. I knew I was different, I knew I was not gadže… but there was no awareness of the larger familija of “Roma”. I knew we had relatives all over Europe – I knew there were Welsh Kaale, Romany, Romanichal, and others. Somehow though, we never addressed ourselves in English as anything other than “Gypsy” and in Romanes, we always used our proper names (the name on my birth certificate is not my “proper” name) or grandma, aunt, uncle, brother etc.
So, I suppose looking at it this way, our fight HAS come a long way. People are more aware of who we are and there are more and more organizations dedicated to helping us. There are more Roma children maintaining places in schools and more families escaping poverty (not nearly enough, but when I look at the life my family had when I was very young to the life they had before my parents died, there is a HUGE difference). There are more artists, authors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, police… in fact, more Roma in every service industry and employment sector. The list of us with higher education is growing. For many of us, things HAVE become better… and we must not forget to be thankful for that.
I’m proud to be Romani and I’m proud to have my family name. I am proud that I am currently in a Master’s program. I am proud to be able to speak out on behalf of myself and my experiences. I am proud to know many other Roma (and non-Roma) who are fighting to make this world a better place for us.
Tiri but’i tut bararel, na tire lava
It’s the effort you make which makes you grow, not your talking