Unite and Celebrate: A Band of Roma. A Roma Day lyric essay in Quail Bell Magazine

 
Papusza suffered for the song of her people, but what if we all sang at once?

Today we celebrate the Roma. We celebrate the plates of food we leave for our ancestors to keep them loved and fed even in death. We cover mirrors, TV and computer screens, and bowls of water after someone dies, just long enough so that they are not trapped by their own reflection as they pass through the veils. We keep our homes and our bodies meticulously clean because the world is split into that which is pure and impure. The spirit is pure; that’s what we want to be. We believe in kintala, or karma, because what we do matters and we mean to do good. We love The Goddess of Fate and her many names and forms, Sati-Sara, Sara Kali, St. Sarah, The Black Madonna; and we believe in free will.  

We remind you that “Roma” is our preferred term, not “Gypsy,” a name that has been turned against us, warped into “gypped,” gyppo,” and the lowercase “gypsy,” the one that doesn’t recognize us as a proper noun, never mind a proper ethnic group. We celebrate that some of us chose to reclaim the word as we wish. We remind you that we, as a culture, are fractured by distance, persecution, and illegal deportation, and we are working to unify, to overcome discord and fight for our basic human rights. We celebrate that we are not homogenous and yet, we are united by our origin. We came from India, migrated in the 11th century, and the Rromanes (Romani language) root is Sanskrit. We are different clans—Kale, Kalderash, Lovara, Sinti, Manouche, Vlach, and many more, all with unique customs, dialects, and worldviews. We are individuals: rich, poor, artists, lawyers, blacksmiths, fortune tellers, musicians, doctors, dancers, mechanics, horse dealers, car dealers, janitors, politicians, activists, writers, professors, actors, executives, beggars, volunteers, producers, landlords, and linguists. Opre Roma: we rise up. We are loving friends, partners, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. To say “I love you” we say, “I eat your heart” or “I eat your belly” because love is voracious and can never be close enough. 

My grandmother survived WWII Germany as a Romani woman. Now she likes to say, “I am a weed. No one wanted me, they tried to destroy me, but I grew. I am a weed and I’m proud. And I’ve always liked weeds best, anyway. Wild, strong, and very pretty.”

Today we raise awareness that half of Europe’s Romani population died in the Holocaust, what we call O Porrajmos (The Great Devouring), and 2 million Romani lives lost is a modest estimation.  We are rarely invited to or acknowledged in Holocaust remembrances or memorials. Sometimes we are not even allowed in the gates. We remind you that Roma were slaves alongside African Americans in the United States, and in the Balkans for four centuries. We are forcibly sterilized in Europe and the U.S., alongside Native Americans and African-Americans. We remind you that the government takes Romani children in the United States and Europe from their families because it is assumed that Roma cannot be decent, loving parents. We remind you that America has “Gypsy Crime” task forces that decide Romani fortune tellers are scammers and white fortune tellers are not. America, the country that swears to the flag not to indulge in racial profiling, blatantly profiles its Roma, just like Europe. We remind you that skinheads set Romani encampments on fire across Europe with Molotov cocktails, burning men, women, and children in their beds. We remind you of the Jobbik Party. Roma are forced into camps with no running water, waste management, electricity, or shelterRoma are denied a right to education, or forced into special education classes because it is assumed we are mentally deficient. Amnesty calls the Romani human rights crisis “Europe’s shame,” and Roma endure hate crimes, are not allowed in shops, and are kicked out of countries because the politicians believe we cannot assimilate, that we are vermin, that Hitler didn’t kill enough of us. We remind you that Roma say, “Fuck you, Fascists. We rise up.” You learned none of this in school.

When my grandmother saw My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding for the first time she called me asking, “Who are these people on TV? They can’t be Gypsies. Who are those girls in the small clothes? I’ve never seen Gypsy girls like that. Why are they so loud?” and I laughed, but she didn’t. She fell quiet and then asked, “Is that how Gypsy girls are now?” And I realized she really didn’t know. She hasn’t been near a Romani community in 50 years, not since she fled Germany alone. Her decision to pass down what remains of her family’s culture, the culture they hid and the language they lost to survive, was not an easy one. When I was a child, she warned me that even knowing my roots was dangerous. She told me, “I was lucky to come to America where no one knew me and I could keep hiding.”  She said, “It was hard enough being German. I couldn’t be a Gypsy too.” I had to explain this reality TV farce to the woman who had risked so much to conceal and preserve her heritage and who believed so fiercely that I should learn it that she splits open her wartime wounds again and again to tell me what she remembers. I told her, No, they aren’t real Roma on that show, and don’t worry, that’s not how Gypsy girls are now, and yes, this show is bullshit. She sighed, “Like we need more bullshit.” 

You see why I cannot be quiet when we are misrepresented and mistreated. She is my community and I am hers, and I am ill-equipped. So I write about fashion, take pictures, and tell stories I cannot show her because they make her too sad. I talk with my friends. I teach a class. I get angry on social media. I worry that none of it means anything but I keep talking, keep writing.

Today we celebrate Romani writers, activists, artists, and professionals who show the world who the Real Gypsy Warriors are: Dr. Ian Hancock, Oksana Marafioti, Morgan Ahern, Rajko Ðjurić, Ronald Lee, Lita Cabellut, Papusza, Mariella Mehr, Romani Rose… to count them would be reductive. Please, discover. We celebrate the language that’s been beaten out of so many Roma that it threatens to disappear. Please, revive.

We celebrate that we are not slutty Halloween costumes or tambourine vamps. We are not spell casters, scapegoats, child-stealers, criminals, or exotic props for stories.  We remind you that you cannot decide to be a Gypsy. It is not a lifestyle choice. It is not whimsy. Nomadism was born from persecution, not some lighthearted folly. We are not a brand like Gypsy Warrior, Junk Gypsy, Band of Gypsies, and Spell and the Gypsy Collective make us out to be. We are not fantasies to be appropriated and exploited—we don’t care that retailers think it’s beautiful to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and diminish the human rights crisis. We don’t care that they didn’t know better. We’d appreciate it if you remind them of that via letters, email, Twitter, and Facebook . Respond to articles and writers who slander us. Be a voice of reason and education. The silence of the privileged is a choice whereas the silence of the oppressed is a shackle. We appreciate our allies—they speak from a place that we cannot, just as we speak from a place that they cannot. We need both parts. 

To be a Gypsy is blood, cultural and traumatic inheritance, and the gorgeous ache you cannot forget. It is Esma Redzepova singing the Romani anthem, “Dzelem, Dzelem” and the fiddle that bows up your bones. It is grilled lamb feast 40 days after the spring equinox for “Ederlezi” and throwing flowers in the river. It is your patient struggle to teach yourself Rromanes by learning that folksong after work, the pleasure of your voice finding words for mommydaddy, and sacrifice. It is the paprika soup that warms the winter. It’s the fear of others’ reactions. It’s despair when Lady GagaHalle BerryMiley CyrusShakira, and people of influence use the slur “Gypsy.” Even if they don’t realize what they’re saying, it degrades and diminishes, and you can bet that they don’t use the opportunity to discuss Romani oppression. That’s not sexy. You’re angry that you care that much about Miley Cyrus. But really you’re angry because she reminds you how much work there is to be done, that antigypsyism has become idiomatic, and so many gadjé still think cultural appropriation is their right, and the more they do it, the worse it gets.

We remind you that we are people with dignity still fighting for our rights and it shouldn’t be taking this long. We invite you to join us. Celebrate: drink in today like “the water that wanders.” 

International Roma Day hashtag activism: #nohatespeech #romarights #RealGypsyWarrior #RomaDay

Suggested Resources for Romani culture and rights:

 ROMBASE  

Patrin

RADOC

The Gypsy Chronicles

Romedia Foundation

Amnesty International

Romea

Romfacts

Kopachi

Lolo Diklo

We are the Romani people by Ian Hancock

The Pariah Syndrome: an account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution by Ian Hancock

Roads of the Roma: a PEN anthology of Gypsy Writers (Threatened Literature Series) Edited by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, and Rajko Ðjurić

GypsyRepresent

 
Image
 
 
 
Advertisements

International Roma Day! Share, celebrate, raise awareness

 

INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY – CELEBRATIONS OF A ROMANI EMANCIPATION MOVEMENT BEING BORN

 

Let us take you through a brief history of how our flag, language and anthem were officially recognized. In the end, embrace with us our diversity and hop on board for our visual journey, ‘from the caravan to the palace’:

 

Forty-three years have passed since the First World Roma Congress was held in Orpington, near London, in 1971. Officially, 8th of April was ratified as an International Celebration Day during the 4th World Romani Congress held in Poland, in 1990. Since then, this date has had a special place in the calendar of all Roma, as it marks an important moment in the history of the Romani Emancipation Movement. It became the day during which we celebrate the International Roma Day, a day to bring forth our beautiful, diverse culture and traditions, but also one of remembrance. The many hardships Romani people faced along the history, from the early days of their arrival in Europe, to the dire conditions they are still confronted with in today’s society, should not be forgotten in our quest for dignity.

 

http://romediafoundation.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/international-roma-day-celebrations-of-a-romani-emancipation-movement-being-born/

Romani Flag

Romani Flag

 

***

SPEAK OUT! AND BE THE CHANGE On The International Romani Day! 

In light of today’s celebration, the International Romani Day, here is a picture with Alina Covaci Taba, one of the 5 women who wished to “Speak Out and Be the Change” and was along-side the Romedia Foundation when the “I’m a Roma woman” campaign started.
“We are five Roma women who wish to build a movement powered by us Roma women to shape our own image and empower ourselves and our communities as we share our experiences, our view of current issues, our vision of the future.”
SPEAK OUT! BE THE CHANGE!

10171252_10152307531042208_9014222229409564908_n

I’m a Roma Woman campaign video— 5 powerful Roma women speaking out for change. Join the campaign!

***

Esma Redzepova sings The Romani Anthem to honor those Roma and Sinti who perished in O Porrajmos, the Holocaust

***

A video history of Romani and Traveller people http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6wSLfGBVGY

***

What can I do today? 

For International Roma Day, use social media to inform your friends and followers about Romani culture and the current fight for Romani rights. You can post about it in your blog and/or take screen shots of your International Roma Day statuses, tweets, Pinterest, and Instagrams. Use hashtags wisely– for example, #nohatespeech, #RealGypsyWarrior, # RomaDay #RomaRights #OpreRoma

You can also take a more active stance, for instance, write articles, organize protests, inform companies like Gypsy WarriorJunk GypsyBand of Gypsies, and Spell and the Gypsy Collective that use the word “Gypsy” and the associated stereotypes as a brand that they are using an ethnic slur, exploiting an oppressed minority, and diminishing the fight for Romani rights. You can do this through email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can address and correct racist, offensive, stereotyping, and misinformed comments and articles about Roma. Social media is a powerful activist tool. 

petice-roma-summit BknMYy-IcAASwax  BknL5kxIAAA8-SB BkpgQ8gIIAE1Wsu

 

Some of my pieces about Romani rights and representation:

“Gypsy Soul: Romani fashion and the politics of dressing ‘Gypsy’”  essay in Quail Bell Magazine

“Real Gypsy Looks” photo shoot in Quail Bell Magazine

“Romani Looks, Romani Blood, Romani Challenges: Blond Gypsy Angels” essay in Quail Bell Magazine

“Free Spirits” photo tale and poem in Quail Bell Magazine

“We Rise Up” Short Story of the Week in Narrative Magazine, Pushcart nominated

 

So, a contributing editor nominated “We Rise Up” in Narrative Magazine for a Pushcart Prize. What?

I’ve been sitting on my good news for a while, mainly because I kept thinking, “Yeah, but, I’m sure it’s a mistake,” or “He was just being nice and I don’t really deserve it so I shouldn’t really tell anyone,” and “What?”. But after talking it over with genius friends, it became apparent that to say nothing would be really quite silly. So that’s it. The story, “We Rise Up” (Opre Roma) was Narrative’s “Story of the Week” back in August, and  I’m honored to the point of extreme awkwardness. And this Pushcart season is especially exciting because a bunch of super talented FSU writers were also nominated and everyone should read their stuff!

Much, much love to everyone, especially all my workshops! I’ve had a lot of smart people say smart things to help me out, and that particular piece came from my first MFA workshop with Robert Olen Butler.

Report from Aug 12th – Flight

Aw! I missed this post. But it’s so nice to take a mind-walk through that night at Spoken Word Paris again– so many talented readers and performers! Check them out, and please go if you’re lucky enough to be in Paris.

SpokenWord Paris

Report by David. Photos by Norma.

Jessica Reidy opened with a strong prose piece about being Romany but disconnected from those roots, living in these days of anti-Romany racism. You can read the whole piece at Narrative Magazine (sign up is free.)
Bill never left the bar but thinks the government is real.
Devon compared you to a comparison.
MacDara read TS Eliot (East Coker, Part V) – “20 years largely wasted trying to learn to use words…”
David Jaggard asked: How terrible was air travel in the Dark Ages?
Drake wore his stupidity like a lighthouse and played Turkish flute between the lines.
Yoshka was healed by poetry.
Jennifer talked about swallows in the hour of arrows.

Bernard dazzled with French wordplay in “Moi, ton toi.”
Erika was in the city of Love with no-one to love.
Thundercat (yes, Thundercat) advised “fly like a stone thrown to strike a lover’s…

View original post 98 more words

Link

“We Rise Up” is Narrative Magazine’s Story of the Week

“We Rise Up” is Narrative Magazine’s Story of the Week

I am overjoyed and honored that my short story “We Rise Up” is Story of the Week in Narrative Magazine. This story is especially important to me– I’m grateful to be able to share it in one of my favorite magazines. So much love.

ETA: I feel like I should add that the Rromanes title, Opre Roma, translates to “we rise up.” Also, Narrative asks you to make an account to read it, but it’s free, and you aren’t obligated to sign up for any of their awesome emails.