I’m so excited to introduce you to Miguel Ángel Vargas, Romani theatre producer, politician, translator, and all-around power house. He started this blog, Bitácora Gitana http://www.gitanos.org/bitacoragitana/, featuring Romani authors, artists, professionals, and community organizers, and I’m so honored that he decided to translate my essay “Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading” into Spanish for the site, and just in time for International Women’s Day. The essay first appeared in VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, in English, and details Romani literacy and authorship, my own journey through story telling, and the work and accomplishments of twenty outstanding Romani women writers. So here’s another way to celebrate international women today– read a gitana!
I’m so excited to share this Lit Hub piece that the volunteers of VIDA collaboratively concocted in honor of International Women’s Day. http://lithub.com/33-life-changing-books-in-honor-of-international-womens-day/ Read and celebrate!
Roads of the Roma: an Anthology of Gypsy Writers by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, Rajko Đurić, eds.
Jessica Reidy, Web Acquisitions Editor: Though I didn’t discover this book until grad school—on my own steam—it changed my life: before this anthology, I didn’t know that women like me could write. I discovered Romani writers Papusza, Luminița Mihai Cioabă, Mariella Mehr, Paola Schöpf, Margita Reiznerová, and more, which led me to writing and teaching poetry, fiction, and non-fiction about my heritage and culture.
Sometimes I get requests from people to do interviews because they’re writing a Romani (Gypsy) character and want to use the life of a real live Gypsy girl to write her, and I always feel uncomfortable about the idea of divulging my life story for another writer’s creative gain. My friend, Misha Rai, urged me to turn those feelings into an essay, and because Misha’s advice is always brilliant, I did it. And now I’m honored and stunned to have “Esmeralda Declines an Interview” in The Missouri Review blog.
No offense intended to anyone who has asked me to interview with them as research for their book. It’s wonderful that you want to write well-rounded Romani characters, and I’m flattered that you thought of me. If you are struggling to include Romani characters in your work, then my advice to you is this: “If you want to be inclusive, then read and support the writers you want to include. Don’t ask to take our lives for your own gain.” I’m sure your intentions aren’t nefarious and I applaud your efforts to write mindfully. Just be mindful in your research too.
A good resource for you to find Romani writers is ‘ list of Romani Authors. I also have a list of “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. There are many more places to look, but this is a good start.
Happy reading! And thank you to The Missouri Review and Misha Rai– I love you to bits.
P.S. Check out “Housewives, Mothers” by Misha in The Indiana Review– it’s one of my favorite stories.
I’ve been honored to have three poems about childhood sexual trauma appear in Luna Luna Magazine, a favorite ezine of mine (and sister publication to Quail Bell Magazine). These poems are the first to be published from a series on trauma that I’ve been working on for many years. I’m putting together the manuscript alongside the novel I’m working on about Coco, a half-Romani (Gypsy) dancer and fortune teller at a Parisian circus who becomes a Nazi hunter. Coincidentally, the novel will contain a few poems. I’m so motivated to finish both projects within the next year. A large part of that is due to the warm reception that these poems have gotten– I couldn’t be more grateful or more touched. Many thanks. And a big thank you to Lisa A. Flowers, founder of Vulgar Marsala Press and author of diotomhero, who solicited me. I also got a lot of good advice about writing trauma poetry from Erin Belieu, Florida State University professor and co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and I so appreciate her help and encouragement. Check out Erin’s latest book Slant Six, and its starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.
You may know Luna Luna for their powerful feminist content, their fierce leader Lisa Marie Basile (Apocryphal), their cutting edge poetry and fiction, and their articles and features on alternative spirituality, the occult, and beautiful cultural practices from all over the world. One of my new favorite things is their Poescopes, that is, poetic horoscopes by Fox Foley-Frazier (Exodus in X Minor), curator of The Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog. P.S. I have some poems about Romani rights and mythology in the Infoxicated Corner as part of the Political Punch series.
Thank you for reading, readers. I feel fearsome and strong, and I’m writing like a demon. I was a demon for Halloween, by the way.
Quail Bell Magazine was so sweet to make this announcement that I’m teaching writing workshops this summer in France on the Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France (Aug 7-20, 2014. I’m so honored to be teaching alongside Cambridge Writers’ Workshop superstars Elissa Joi Lewis, Rita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai (recently one of VIDA’s “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading”). They are all so talented, smart, and divinely sweet. And I’m wildly excited that I’m teaching “Yearning & Character Motivation” and “Magic & Trauma– Writing from the Unconscious,” and there are a bunch more awesome writing workshops on the schedule including writing workshops, craft talks, art classes, adventures to Paris & Chantilly, and yoga twice a day. In France. A couple of spots have opened so apply ASAP or by July 15th.
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 shelter. Roma 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.
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 mommy, daddy, and sacrifice. It is the paprika soup that warms the winter. It’s the fear of others’ reactions. It’s despair when Lady Gaga, Halle Berry, Miley Cyrus, Shakira, 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:
We are the Romani people 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
These recs are REALLY good! I’m making a killer summer reading list.
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