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.
T-shirts encourage our murder; History books hide us in footnotes; we are essentialized, exoticized, romanticized.
My grandmother was no footnote to history. She was strong woman, a survivor of the genocide books insist didn’t happen. Her sister’s life measured out in the bruise-coloured numbers that crawled along her forearm. Almost everything lost to the hungry smoke.
My mother was no romantic, exotic Gypsy. A daughter of the Holocaust, she was a mad woman. Cultural trauma hidden in the folds of her skirts and the corners of her mouth. She existed in the space between lives, between memories, between the smoke and the dawn.
I am the daughter of strong women and mad women. I negotiate my identity with broken language in a world that fictionalizes my very being.
Our transnational (diaspora) community is a problem because it defies the colonial ideologies of homeland, soil, and belonging. We exist as a community across political borders and boundaries with little concern. Our sense of self and community isn’t bound to a single place – our culture is our home.
Our daily life was pockmarked with code-switching and misrepresentation – we became what they told us we were.
Ako tumen den vorba gova si
If you call it life,
then, I live.
- Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić
Self-representation for Romani has been (and in most cases still is) difficult to achieve. The constant and deliberate misrepresentation we face is an act of colonial violence – we are at once accused of being inferior to proper Europeans, while simultaneously being required to integrate or assimilate to the extent that we cease to be different. We are told the only ‘Gypsy problem’ is our unwillingness to become non-Gypsy. Literary and media representations, especially those in political arenas, continue to consider Gypsies as the source of the ‘Gypsy problem.’
We are caught between difference and sameness; between segregation and assimilation.
We were silent for thousands of years
but our hearts are full
of unuttered sentences,
like a sea receiving
blue river waters
all its life long
- Dezider Banga
Last year, when I stumbled on our literary heritage I found so many answers to so many questions; not only those regarding the validity of my own oral history, my own family’s past; but the journey of my people as a whole and our transnational, migratory, sedentary, intellectual belonging.
My family was illiterate. School an unnecessary distraction. I was raised without books, without reading, without writing. When I found our books, I was both amazed and ashamed – Ceija Stojka, Ilona Lačková, Tera Fabiánová, Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić – so many women, so many stories, so many moments in which I found my self. I couldn’t understand why these books were so hard to find, so difficult to access.
Karel Holomek, Andrej Giňa, František Demeter, Margita Reiznerová, Luminița Mihai Cioabă … the names and the words and the books and the feelings of recognition, of identity, kept coming. Our culture is still viewed as being non-literary; our words and our world brushed under the rug of uneducated, unassimilated, subaltern.
As we face more and more pressure to become less and less Romani, our children should be reading books in our languages, reading authors from their own histories, and finding comfort in a literary history that extends far beyond their reach. Instead we are packed into segregated classrooms, denied equal opportunities to learn, and our books are gathering dust in a handful of international libraries.
sar phosadji luludji
paš o drom
andro laljipen, andre phandlji
I am alone
like a thistle flower
by the road
in silence, imprisoned.
- Tera Fabiánová