For my first seven years I had just one identity: child. The move to a bigger city in Romania made it clear to me that I was not a “normal” Romanian child but a ”gypsy”[i] child that Romanians “put up with”. I worked hard for the next years, and I was promoted from “stinky gypsy”, to “gypsy”, to “ok gypsy”, to “good gypsy”, to Roma, and finally I made it as “a Romanian”, and “someone Romania is proud of”. A Romanian TV station blessed me with that final title. Not to worry; it is still honorific. Any “original” Romanian that I piss off might request a re-evaluation and demote me. At the end of 2013 I was sainted as an EU citizen by receiving an award from the European Parliament.
It is great to be a gypsy. To be a member of such an advantaged ethnic minority: part human, part animal, part magic: truly a magnificent thing. We are the living Sphinxes, Pans and Centaurs of Europe. The majorities were incredibly kind to us for centuries, as they did their best to domesticate us. The process of taming us took a long time. As part of the process, they provided unlimited access to work for more than 500 years. This made us so happy that we decided to do it voluntarily, and sometimes even wearing chains. In the 20th century we traveled freely – all expenses covered by some generous European governments – to many exotic destinations such as Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Transnistria. We misbehaved and complained unfairly about the quality of transportation, food and overall treatment, which deeply embarrassed our benefactors. No wonder some Europeans still get all tense: we seem to have learned nothing from those experiences and continue to complain about all kinds of “silly things such as exclusion and racism”. Regardless, a good part of these Europeans still wish us all the best… in heaven. Hitler’s, Horthy’s and Antonescu’s heavens, that is.
As gypsies, we are truly lucky as we all have the same characteristics. Our race lacks any individual traits: we do our best to satisfy the need for simplicity and clarity on the part of our fans and lords. We aim to avoid confusion and the waste of vital energy to build new synapses in the brains of our admirers. The way we did this was simply to incorporate in our DNA the main attributes proposed by our tamers and educators: laziness, stupidity, criminality, kitschy tastes, lying, incompetence, and aggressiveness are all there. This might sound unscientific to some, but remember, we are a people of fortune-tellers, magicians, and children who never get sick; what people believe about us has more power than science or facts.
What might at first appear to be hate, disgust, and exclusion are in fact simple misunderstandings or malicious interpretations of what is actually a kind expression of love meant to help our education. Many Europeans use the slogan “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” to explain their relationship with us. This obsession with making us stronger is found not just in the speeches of many politicians, but also in the purifying actions (fire or “holy” beatings are the most usual) led by groups of volunteer “teachers”. Throughout history, hangings, axes, pitch-forks, gas-chambers, forced deportations, starvation, and more recently bullets increased the efficiency of the educational methods.
As gypsies we also have no individual responsibilities. We are all responsible for the worst of any of us. Any idiotic thing said by a self-appointed leader, king, emperor, prince, or (if lucky) any gypsy becomes representative and binding for all of us.
On the other hand, the corruption, violence, and sociopathy of some of the most representative European leaders (all democratically elected) are ruled by surprisingly different laws as they are generally considered the responsibility of that particular individual. This is another proof of the benevolence of our “host nations”. It is well known that we “diluted” the honest, smart, and blue-greenish blood of many European nations that offered us unlimited hospitability.
From time to time one of us gypsies falls from our magic realm and ends up being generously accepted by our co-nationals as an honorary citizen. I have had this good fortune myself, as I explained earlier.
This high status comes with some minor requests such as accepting full responsibility for the systemic racism against us. Each of us awarded with honorary citizenship needs to do it. We are to be extremely polite, diplomatic, and defensive towards the majority population whenever there are racist actions that affect our communities, while at the same time being tough and unforgiving with the mistakes of our “uneducated, dirty, cunning and violent race”. We need also to understand and promote the need for a strong glass ceiling, as high-level jobs involve a level of responsibility and knowledge unfit for us. Others deciding what is needed and good for us is not institutional racism, but evidence of friendly (sometimes even maternal/paternal)love and care.
If you (the gypsy) are blessed to have a love relationship with one of those from the superior European races it is highly likely you will have strong incentives to keep quiet about your ethnicity. In the best case scenario, s/he will have no problems with your ethnicity and his/her friends will regard him/her as a paragon of tolerance and kindness, proof of the magnanimity of the nation towards “foreigners”. It is true that many will think your lover is a “whore” or an “idiot”, and some will think you or your relatives cast dark spells that made her/him fall in love with you. Regardless, you should not worry: burnings are not as popular as they used to be a few centuries ago. The occasional “what would you expect from a stinky gypsy” meant to explain your shortcomings is just a kind and gentle reminder that your education and domestication is ongoing.
Certainly, I, as a gypsy, am a hypocrite writing all the above. My role should be to “denounce the criminals among my people”, to “educate the stinky children that disgust” the “normal European”, to do something to “solve the problems of the gypsy communities”, and most important, to stop complaining. At the end of the day “I am tolerated here by the kind Romanians/Europeans!”
For the first time I felt being treated as a Roma in the US. I told people at my work, reluctantly, that I am a gypsy. Their reaction was unexpected, for me as they did not seem to care. Moreover some thought I was cool: poetic, romantic, a talented musician, exotic and in a relentless pursuit of freedom and magic. It fit perfectly with my job – I was writing boring mathematical algorithms at that time.
In India I felt even weirder, when in a very crowded train people wanted to make a place for me to sit down as I looked comparatively white and rich. I refused the offer.
In Romania, for years now I have been received as a “genuine” Romanian. I am successful and I receive lots of recognition for what I do, sometimes more than I deserve. I chose to make it clear that I am a Romanian Roma and generally that is received as it should be – with respect. From time to time I am called and treated as a gypsy but it is rather exceptional nowadays. Unfortunately there are many teenagers and young Roma that do not have my luck. The text here is for them and reflects, sadly, real discussions.
*The article above is based on a Romanian version that is available in the newspaper Dilema Veche published today August 20, 2015
[i] Gypsy is a pejorative – Roma is the correct word