When I think about how important this date of April 8th has become to me, it sort of blows my mind.
Growing up, I didn’t know the word “Romani” as an appellation for my people. We referred to ourselves as Gypsies when forced to identify ourselves to outsiders. At home we used our names, or our nicknames, or family titles, such as čhajori (little girl), phral (brother), and papo (grandad). While the first World Romani Congress was held in London, England in 1971, it’s not something that we heard about or even knew was happening. It didn’t change our lives. Their adoption, officially, of “Gelem Gelem” and “O Styago Romano” didn’t change anything for us. We still lived our lives the very same way. Of course, I didn’t come along into the world until some time afterwards, but I hadn’t even heard of the Congress until only a few years ago.
It’s amazing how many of us don’t know our own history. We know our Indian roots, we know our stories and songs that tell of the journeys that our ancestors undertook. Many of us don’t even know our own languages fluently anymore or the terrors that were committed during the Porrajmos. We’re fractured and scattered and trying to get by however we can. I know that for me, I spent most of my life trying to blend in, to leave the word “Gypsy” behind. I wanted to become normal, because I thought being “Gypsy” was not normal. I was ‘other’ and as such I had to play by the rules or be left behind.
I first learned about April 8 about five years ago. Around that time, I was forced to make a choice. I was sitting in an anthropology class and my professor brought up “the Roma”. I was shocked, firstly that she used the correct name and secondly at the venomous responses of my classmates. “Gypsies are thieves”; “They’re dirty and lazy”; “They don’t want to work!” I sat silently for a few minutes … but then, I stood up and turned to face them. I said “I am Romani and I am not dirty, lazy, OR a thief”. None of them knew what to say. Someone in the back laughed nervously. I remember that day though, because it was the first day since I came to the US that I stood up and said “I am Romani”.
I learned a lot after that – filled in the gaps in the stories of our history; found out about April 8th and the World Romani Congress. I found out that there were Romani with PhDs and that some of them were women. I found that there were hundreds of Romani writers, playwrights, dancers, singers, musicians, and artists. I found that being Romani was something to be proud of.
I also found that it wasn’t just a few Roma in Europe who lived in terrible conditions. I found that it wasn’t just my uncle who died because he was Romani. I found that there is much violence and hatred against Roma almost everywhere they live. I found that they’re evicted and mistreated; denied adequate education and rights. But, I think the worst thing I found out was that Roma are excluded from the history of the Holocaust – relegated to “… and Gypsies”.
This April 8th is quite a big deal. It seems to me that it’s the first time Roma have been so coordinated across the world in one day of action – in the UK, Slovakia, the US, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other countries. It is a big deal to me because it’s really the first time I’ve been so open about being Romani on this day. I am proud of my heritage – proud of being Gypsy – and I will stand up to claim my rightful place not only in history, but in my daily life. We deserve respect and assistance. We deserve education and proper housing.
I will always do what I can to return the privileges I have been given.
Na bisterdjom miri famelijia thaj lengero paramisi. Kada paramisi hin maj importantno ande ľumja.