January 27th, 2016 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We spread red flowers to honor those who lived and died in what Roma call, The Hungry Smoke. The Holocaust was an ugly genocide of those from the Jewish faith as well as those who were ethnically “Gypsies,” the racial slur used to describe Romani and Sinti people. The Sinti are a clan (or tribe, as some prefer that word while others argue that ours is not a tribal society) within the Roma, and the word Roma refers to the many different cultures and subcultures that exist within Romani society, all of which are distinct with their own dialects, customs, and beliefs. Many Sinti prefer to be called Sinti and not to be included under the Romani umbrella, but I am comfortable being referred to as Romani, both because my heritage is very ethnically mixed anyway and because I like the inclusiveness that the word “Roma” suggests. My grandmother and many of her family members survived O Porrajmos, or the Great Devouring, by hiding their ethnicity, something that many were not able to do, and others among her friends and family were not so fortunate. The Roma and Sinti are often forgotten alongside the other groups targeted, such as LGBTQ* people, people living with disabilities, Catholics, Communists, and many others. Even though half of the Romani population was obliterated during WWII, because of systemic racism, few organizations or countries recognize our loss for what it was: genocide. This is slowly changing, however. This year the UN is hosting Sinto survivor, Mr. Zoni Weisz, to speak at their event for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, so if you are in NYC or can make the trip, I hope you attend. It’s important for all of us to band together for everyone touched the the dark maw.
I’m re-sharing Drunken Boat‘s Romani Folio, an issue completely dedicated to Romani writing and art, in honor of this day. Much of Romani
Drunken Boat, Romani Folio cover
literature and art is shaped by The Hungry Smoke, as well as the antigypsyist legislation, sentiment, and violence that still dogs the Roma all over the world. My short story, “Why the Pyres are Unlit,” though fictional, was heavily inspired by my grandmother’s survival, the stories she’s shared, and the mark that violence has left on my family.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about inherited and perpetuated trauma (by lately, I mean since I was a child), and I believe that the only way to change cycles of violence and fear internalized passed down through generations is to acknowledge, feel, discuss, and then release them. Silence, forced or self-imposed, is what breeds violence. Art, writing, expression, discourse, and remembrance– all of this frees us. I will spread flowers, but I will also imbibe Romani and Sinti literature and art, such as the paintings of Ceija Stojka and the words of Rajko Djuric. Pick up a good anthology (I love this one, Roads of the Roma) or browse the web for new discoveries. You can start with Romani writer Qristina Zavačková Cummings and her list of Romani authors, or my list of “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. May we remember, may we create, and may we journey toward healing and liberation together.