Author Saikumar Yerubandi Sheds Light on a Little-Acknowledged Disability

sai photo

I first encountered Saikumar Yerubandi when we both wound up published in the second issue of UnBound Emagazine, the creation of my favorite literary group—“For Writers by Authors” (FWBA.)  A mutual love of paleontology, (for which the idea of a book anthology has been kicked around from time to time,) and interest in human rights sparked a pleasant online friendship.  We would both later be published in the next UnBound issue…and, only a few days ago, the one after that as well.

The subject material of Yerubandi’s latest work “Mah Color, My Life” hit me on a very deep level and only half-way through reading it, rather than simply giving his piece a review, I knew that I wanted to do an actual feature.  Simply put, the autobiographical story has more than writing appeal.  There is a strong social and educational importance to the piece which needs to be shared for the greater good of both the international able-bodied and disabled community.

Without further ado, the interview:

G: To an audience who has never read you before, can you say a few words about yourself?

S: A dark balding South Indian who refuses to accept that I am on the wrong side of 50.  A farmer who became a geologist by accident whose heart still beats for his village.  I write short stories and flash fiction more as a hobby.  (I just completed my flash fiction #48 last week “the chota peg series.”)  God forbid someday I might seriously think of becoming a writer.  Readers be warned.

G: What is your preferred genre and what type of writing format do you typically use in order to bring it to life?

S: The genre that comes naturally to me is humour.  I love to write horror too.  The topics I normally write are related to day to day social issues.  What I can’t do is Romance, I mean, the genre.

G: In your short story, “Mah Color, Mah Life,” (which recently debuted in UnBound Emagazine Issue 4, and is being promoted by Kalaage,) you talk about various difficulties that you have had to overcome at different times in your life because you are color blind.  Several times, you reference hardship in your early school years.  Do you feel that teachers are properly educated about the different perception of color blind students?

S: Well, frankly in India, even to this day, probably half the teachers are not even aware of this handicap in the children.  Probably the inability to differentiate shades of colours is attributed to the low IQ of the child.  It is only in recent times the schools are appointing student counselors to understand issues like Dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and so on.  I hope that colour blindness is given equal importance.

G: What advice would you give a teacher who has a color blind student in their class for the first time?

S: The first thing the teacher needs to do is understand the trauma that the child goes thru vis-a-vis teasing and bulling by other students on his inability to differentiate colours, and guide and help the child to deal with it by learning to laugh at oneself.  And sensitizing the other classmates.

G: By profession, you are a geologist. I would imagine that color blindness must make the identification of many rocks extremely difficult, yet you persevere nonetheless.  What words would you have to skeptics regarding the capabilities of the color blind in the work force?

S: If early on in life if you identify your handicap, avoid jobs that require you to deal with colours.  You’ll save yourself and others a lot of uncomfortable situations.  But, having said that, take this disability as a challenge in your personal hobbies.

G: Regarding driving a vehicle, which presents issues as well, is there any advice that you have for color blind children as well as their parents as to what to expect?

S: Well since there not much a person afflicted with colour blindness can do about it, the onus lies on the state to make the signals more user friendly…like, instead of just the colours red, green, and yellow, the signals should have a pictorial display as well.  (It is already in vogue in many countries.)  Alternatively just follow a vehicle right in front of you and do what he does.  This is of course fraught with the risk of following a bad driver who jumps signals, like it happened to me once.

G: Despite repeated publications by UnBound Emagazine in the past, when they announced the theme for this issue, (“A Riot of Colors,”) you almost did not enter.  Do you feel that many other color blind people have this hesitation to talk about the impact of color in general, let alone actual color blindness, in their lives, even with respected friends and colleagues?

S: Yes.  I am sure most colour blind people would rather push it under the carpet, rather than expose themselves to their handicap fearing ridicule.  I guess most people in general try to hide those not so visible handicaps to friends and colleagues.  Having said that, yes, the writers are a bold breed and they don’t hesitate.

G: In the past, you have written short stories whose fictional characters deal with gender violence, women’s equality, and animal rights.  In the future, will your fiction have color blind characters also?

S: Hmm…that’s a good idea.  My only dilemma would be whether to make it a serious social issue or a humorous one.

G: In fiction, have you encountered any positive, accurate portrayals by other authors of color blind characters that you can direct readers to?

S: Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any one writing on this subject.  I am not even sure if there are any groups dealing with this.  I would love to browse the net for the same.

G: If not, what effect does this have on you, both as a color blind person, and as a writer?

S: I am glad I wrote on this subject and happy to see people liked it, and hope that in future more writers affect by this handicap will feel free to do so.  Not only colour blindness but on other invisible disabilities too.

G: Do you feel that the public in general has a large degree of misconceptions about the realities of being color blind?  How do you feel the disability is generally portrayed?

S: Insensitive people will only find it as another subject to make fun of, for example lisping, squint etc.  Like me, the person suffering from this disability will try to hide it and pretend that all is well.

G: Though not color blind, as a person with a disability, I identified a great deal with many of the emotional aspects described in your piece.  Do you plan on promoting what you’ve written for UnBound Emagazine in disability groups online for the benefit of those who do not, as you do, have gifts with the written word?

S: I would like to see this piece being shared on as many disability groups as possible and let people know it is nothing to be ashamed of.  I accept both the gifts of the Almighty—the ability to write and the colour blindness with equal grace.

G: Now that you have publicized your disability in a literary format, how does it make you feel?

S: I feel relieved.  I no longer need to be ashamed of my disability and I also realized not all people are insensitive to a fact that people can’t differentiate between, say, red and brown and it is NOT because they are idiots.

G: Two questions that I ask all fellow people with a disability: is there anything that you consider a positive aspect of your physical difference?  Are there any ways that it has helped influence your life for the better?

S: My own disability have made me more sensitive and appreciative to people with different disabilities and their resilience to overcome them, some of which are more serious, and we have inherited them and not out of choice.

G: What is next on the writing horizon for Saikumar Yerubandi?

S: For the next prompt for #UnBound magazine (theme: “The Shape of You”)…I plan to write something different.  Probably a mythology explained through Science fiction.  Hopefully, if I can block out Ed Sheeran’s tune from playing non-stop in my head while doing so.

Shape of You

G: In conclusion, speaking only for myself, I must admit that, prior to “Mah Color, Mah Life,” I was pretty ignorant about the condition.  Now that I’ve learned a bit about it, I would really like to see color blind characters begin to take their rightful place in fiction—particularly when written by authors who are color blind themselves and therefore definitely know what they are talking about.  There is no reason for color blindness, like so many other disabilities, to be shoved into the closet any longer.  In an era when racism and skin colorism are both finally being highlighted for the full wrong that they are, disablism, however, still seems to find itself largely being ignored by warriors for social justice.  Disabled authors have the ability to change that, even if it is one short story at a time.  As Yerubandi can certainly prove.

 

“Mah Color, Mah Life” may be read here:

https://www.kalaage.net/issue/67/issue_1505143424105

UnBound 4

 

Yerubandi’s previous UnBound publication “Sri Rama Raksha” in issue #2 here:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/656583

Strength of a Woman

 

Yerubandi’s two stories in Issue #3, “Eknath Lonekar,” and “Chicken Little,” maybe be found here:

 

And, Yerubandi’s blog, which might, in the future, feature other short stories and his flash fiction “Chota Peg” series here:

https://ysaikumar.wordpress.com/author/ysaikumar/

Advertisements

Three Famous Romani Women…That No One Talks About

A year or two ago, while browsing in a Romani chat room online, I encountered a strain, started by and contributed to by a number of major Facebook Romani male activists, whose identities in considering the subsequent moral dilemma seem a bit on the irrelevant side.  In a word, the men were all veritably losing their mind with glee because they had learned that a major “Game of Thrones” star had identified themself publicly as a “Gypsy.”  They were debating how to contact said actor, how to get them to join up with various Romani rights groups as a representative, and just waxing poetic in general about how awesome it was that this particular individual turned out to be, as they say, “tatcho rat”—true blood.

Now, anyone who is Romani that actually bothers to do the slightest degree of research online might assume that they were referencing Oona Chaplin, the granddaughter of the legendary Romani actor and director, Charlie Chaplin.  On “Game of Thrones,” Ms. Chaplin played “Talisa Maegyr,” wife of “Robb Stark.”

But, oh no no.  These men knew nothing about the lovely Oona.  And when I pointed her presence out to them, they completely ignored it; completely ignored her.

The subject of their adoration was instead Jason Momoa, aka “Khal Drogo,” who had created an organization called “Pride of Gypsies.”

When you click on the website, the first thing which you read is:

 

“Pride (prid)-A group of lions forming a collective.

Gypsy (jip-see)-A nomadic or free-spirited person.

Pride of Gypsies was founded by Jason Momoa in 2010, a tribe of artists & filmmakers with an enthusiastic thirst for creating unique and inventive content, harnessing an atypical approach to production.

Cut from the old- letting light, sound, and movement tell the stories, our pursuit for magnificent adventures is infused with innovation and excellence that improves the human spirit.”

 

Mr. Momoa, however “free-spirited” he may find himself, is in no way Romani, but instead Hawaiian, Native American, German, and Irish.  I pointed this as well out to the Google-adverse men who were salivating over him, but just as they ignored Oona Chaplin, they now seemed determined to ignore the fact that Momoa wasn’t the real thing.

So what was it about Jason Momoa which blew Oona Chaplin so completely out of the water?  As these men kept referencing the TV show, let’s take a look at their characters….  Momoa plays a rape-advocating, slave-owning, gleefully-murdering warlord who sexually assaults his arranged marriage wife on several occasions.  (But, hey, that’s okay, because she supposed learns to enjoy sex with her marital rapist anyway.  Hurray for Stockholm syndrome!)  To film some of the rape scenes, Momoa was nude, but covered his genitalia with a plush, pink sock.  Chaplin, to the contrary, played a relatively virtuous character, who nurses the wounded after battle, and eventually marries one of the show’s nice guys.  Their sex is completely consensual.  Chaplin then winds up stabbed to death, while pregnant.  Chaplin was, like Momoa, nude for her role.  Momoa made jokes about his nakedness.  As for her own, Chaplin stated: “The objectification lies in the eye of the beholder, just like beauty.  I’m really comfortable getting my kit off, so, if they want to, I’m like, ‘yeah, bring it, I’m naked, no problem.’ ”

Well, for Oona, there may be no issue, but, judging by the stone-cold silence from the Romani activist crowd, who tend to be all too quick to cash in on one of our own making it big, there was a problem indeed.  Else a Gadjo (non-Rom) proclaiming himself a Gypsy wouldn’t take precedence over a woman from a well-respected English Romani bloodline.

But she’s not the only one who the community tends to shove into the back of the closet.

In 1985, “Return to Oz,” (based of the L Frank Baum book “Glenda of Oz,”) was filmed.  In this sequel, little Dorothy Gale finds herself yet again in a position where she must risk her life to both get home and save the magical kingdom from its current bad guy.  And who did the very-coveted role go to?  Eleven-year-old Romani actress, Fairuza Balk.

Balk would go on to play many major Hollywood roles in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Valmont’s “Cecile,” American History X’s “Stacey,” The Waterboy’s “Vicki Vallencourt,” and, likely her most famous role, “Nancy” from The Craft.  Today, she continues to act, as well as do artwork and blog.

But Romani activists, when they list the famous of Hollywood, almost always leave her out in the cold also.  Does it matter that the actress is not only very open about her heritage, but even has a triangle tattoo on her arm memorializing the Romani Holocaust?  Does it matter that she, at least at one point, used her fame to try to help raise awareness as well as funding for Romani rights by adding information and donation links to her website?

Apparently not.  And why might that be?  Well, well, it would appear that this Romani actress has also done nudity-included sex scenes.  Could it be that, regardless of her efforts to improve the lot of her people, her entitlement to control the portrayal of her own body on film simply overrides her other traits?

Perhaps that would be a question for Noomi Rapace, the Swedish actress of Spanish Romani descent who skyrocketed to worldwide fame for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  Rapace was repeatedly nude, via both rape and consensual sex, in this film and its two sequels.  Does it matter that the movies had to do with such themes as exposing incest, solving anti-Semitic murders, pointing out the potential for the exploitation of women by government officials, the lack of aid for women suffering domestic violence, and the rampancy of human trafficking?  My best guess is…”no.”

Because, at the end of the day, ours is not a culture that, for any reason besides her husband’s pleasure, a woman has the right to be naked.

Chaplin, Balk, and Rapace are not the stereotype of the “Good Romani Woman.”  Oh, to the contrary, they are very far from it.  And the community’s vast silence in their regard, spanning so many years, makes sure that they, as well as outsiders, know it. Sadly, very likely they will stay ignored, no matter what they might do in the future in order to better the condition of their people.  Because, however much culturally we, the Romani, are diversifying on the issue of women’s rights—the powers that be are often still ruling with an iron fist.  And nothing is so terrifying to such individuals as the independent Romani women who, bluntly put, don’t give a flying fuck about communal approval.

As I read recently, underneath a post about Giuvlipen, a Romani theatre group in Romania which promotes feminism and GLBT Romani rights, “real Romani women reject feminism.”

Well, feminism is not necessarily nudity, nor is nudity necessarily empowerment.  But forcing a system of values on a woman in order to control or contain her sexuality—values which she does not agree with—does not protect or elevate the concept of Romani womanhood or purity.  It reduces it to nothing but a commodity; a status which can be stripped away brutally.

There will be no advance of Romani rights while this behavior continues.  Because however much it hides beneath the claim of “morality,” the restriction of a woman’s right to do with her own body as she chooses, merely paves the path to many of the gender-based problems, including violence, that Romani women, like so many other women of color, disproportionately endure.

Oona Chaplin’s place among the ignored perhaps is the biggest symbol of this because there has likely never been in the last fifty years a list drawn up by any Romani male activist of famous Romani people without Charlie Chaplin’s name right at the top.  But dear old Charlie, however talented he was as a performer, absolutely epitomized the exact opposite of decent Romani living.  Point of fact, if he had ever been taken before an old-school Romani judgment tribunal, it’s almost impossible that he would not have been formally shunned.  He was a batterer, a sexual predator, a pedophile, a routine seducer that deliberately sought the company of White girls in opposition to fellow people of color, and, to boot, used his acting skills to portray caravan Roma onscreen as the kidnappers and violent abusers of White teenage girls.  Oh, yes, he’s known for spoofing Hitler in “The Little Dictator,” but if Romani people want a realistic view of him, it’s “The Vagabond,” filmed in 1916, which they need to take an honest look at.  If Oona Chaplin starred in a remake of the uber-racist, stereotype-spouting “The Vagabond,” what would happen to her, I wonder?  My best guess is that she’d be veritably roasted alive, yet, because Charlie was male, him making a living by throwing his fellow Roma under the bus is, much like Oona’s heritage, quietly ignored.

Last night, online, I encountered a non-Romani blogger’s list of Romani actresses.  It did showcase these three women.  My pleasure at seeing this was quickly overshadowed by a female Romani blogger making discriminatory responses, basically to the tune of how many of the women listed are simply not Romani enough to qualify as true Roma.  She implied that they capitalize on passing as White when, point of fact, not one of them has done this and two of them who could very well have hidden their identity went out of their way to showcase it.  This Romani female’s response did not surprise me.  Even though people know the real reason that these women are being excluded, it’s not considered acceptable by many to actually vocalize it.  It’s much easier, and certainly less embarrassing for the speaker, to cast aspersions on the basis of mixed heritage.

To which I respond: is your half-sister not still your sister?  Are not all the grandchildren of your grandparent still your cousins?  Even if the way they talk, dress, or conduct themselves is different from you, so long as they do not hurt anyone, do their differences completely eradicate the fact that blood is still blood?  If your position is that it does, perhaps that says more about your loyalty to your people than it does about theirs.

Chaplin, Balk, and Rapace each deserve the respect of being treated as a phen by their own people.  I pray sincerely that I am proved wrong and, in time, they receive it.

And to you, my brother activists, keep something in mind: if you claim to represent the Romani people—then that includes women too, even the ones who march to their own drums.  And if you automatically support the rights of a phral over a phen, then the reality is that you have true respect for neither gender.  By degrading the second, you bring shame to the first.

As for those entertainers who are not Romani, but use the word “Gypsy” in order to boost their notoriety—(shout out to you, Mr. Momoa!)—if ever it enters your head to call yourself a “Gypsy,” know this: that is privilege which, ethically, you do not have.  And it does create problems amongst the ethnic group who have been labeled with this word—a word, for the record—that a very large percentage of us consider a straight-up racial slur.  Don’t use it.

Just.

Don’t.

 

 

 

 

Interview with and Review by Devika Fernando

Watching Devika Fernando’s facebook and twitter pages, I often find myself marveling at how nearly-impossible it is to keep track of her progress.  Every time that I blink, it seems, she has announced the debut of a new book, while never forgetting to properly promote the ones that she has already delivered.  If ever I encounter a harder-working romance novelist, I just might have to question if it is really a human being…or the Valentine’s Day version of the Energizer Bunny in disguise.

In her author bio, she states:

“Having always loved to read and write, Devika Fernando made her dream come true in 2014 when she became a self-published author. She has released more than 10 eBooks in the genres contemporary romance, paranormal romance and romantic suspense. The Amazon bestselling author’s German and Sri Lankan roots influence her writing.”

Well, there you have it.  Ten.  Gah!  Naturally, when my two short stories, both of which have to do, in different ways, with love, debuted, I was inclined to add Fernando to my list of people to ask for feedback.  Regarding her own work, I also had a few questions for her.  They were pretty tricky to come up with, given my awe at her fast pace and desire to just say, “How?  How do you possibly do it?” ten times over, but here goes:

G: You are certainly one of the most prolific writers that I’ve met online.  Where do you find the drive to keep writing with the speed that you do?  How do you avoid burning out?:

D: Thanks a lot for the compliment – and for this interview opportunity. 🙂 I think it helps that I don’t just view it as a hobby but as a job. I take it seriously, sit down and tell myself I need to write and not get distracted. If I do feel less motivated or pressed for time, I’ve found it helps me not to write chronologically but to skip to whatever scene is on my mind. I also write nonfiction for work (in German), so that balances the daily writing out nicely.

G: How long do you have a story in your head before you start to commit it to paper?  And what usually prompts you to finally write that first sentence?:

D: That depends. If I am currently working on another book, I only write down the idea or a rough plot draft and try to stick with the work in progress. Sometimes, however, I do switch between two books if the story really demands to be written. I usually write a short outline and character biographies before I type the first sentence. Often, I also think of a title and whether it fits into an existing or a new series.

G: You write romance novels.  How is it that you came to prefer this general genre?  And which kind of romance novel (historical, supernatural, et cetera,) is your favorite to write?  Why?:

D: I’ve always enjoyed reading romance novels; it was a natural choice. I also researched the eBook and self-publishing situation before embarking on this journey of becoming an author, so romance made even more sense. I write contemporary romance on the sweet side (often with interracial couples like in Saved in Sri Lanka, Seduced in Spain and The Prince’s Special Bride), with an occasional paranormal romance thrown in (the three novels in the Fire Trilogy). I have a huge respect for those who tackle historical romance as it’s not a challenge I see myself tackling.

G: What do you feel makes your style or character development different from other writers in your field?

D: I love using exotic locations and countries around the world as the setting and bringing it alive just like the characters. Another trademark of mine is writing multicultural couples and characters that are believable with all their emotions and little flaws.

G: Which of your book’s heroines do you personally most identify with and why?

D: Sepalika from Saved in Sri Lanka, probably. In the book, she is a Sri Lankan with a rather modern attitude, who falls for an Irish tourist. I am a German citizen, though also half Sri Lankan and married to a Sinhalese man. Quite a few of her values and views are my own, though her story isn’t. Then again, a little bit of me is inside every single heroine I write!

G: Which of your book’s heroes appealed to your personal ideals of romance the most?

D: That’s difficult to answer. Ultimately, I write all my heroes in a way that I would/could fall in love with them. If I HAD to choose, I’d go for Daniel, the hero in Saved in Sri Lanka. He loves books and history, is a bit nerdy but also tall and handsome with an adventurous streak and a kind heart.

G: If your books were narcotics, which one would most likely be the gateway drug to get unfamiliar readers hooked onto the rest of your work?

D: I love this question! 😀 Probably When I See Your Face because it’s free and on the shorter side but has my usual emotional style and sweet romance. Or The Prince’s Special Bride as it’s the ‘gateway drug’ to a series and does also have some parallels to my multicultural romances.

G: When you’re not creating a mass of love stories, what do you do to do to sit back and relax?

D: I read, and I read. Oh, did I mention I read? 😉 Apart from reading, I enjoy spending time with my husband and my pets, and chatting with friends from all over the globe.

G: What was your biggest obstacle to amassing the literary career that you have?

D: Finding enough time to write because there’s work and daily life to juggle, too.

G: What words of wisdom would you share with new authors looking to write about romance?

D: Read as much as you can in your genre so you get a feel of the style, possibilities, readers’ expectations and trends. Then write as much as you can to find your own style within those markers, as practice makes perfect.

(Well, thank you, for your data, Ms. Fernando!)

At least regarding the romance genre in the US, I have found that there can be a rather all-too-familiar formula that many of the novels tend to fall into.  (Mainly the “the brute/ scallywag/”savage”-kidnaps-her-but-she-discovers-she-likes-it-and-can’t-get-enough or the oh-so-similar rich lord-has-forced-arranged-marriage-with-her-and-she-likes-it-and-can’t-get-enough.  Or then there are the Bridget Jones’ romances which, nice as they are, focus much less on the actual relationship so much as the growth of the female heroine.)  I started reading one of Fernando’s books and it definitely, in no way, fell into any of these traditional bodice-ripping clichés.  And such dehumanizing tactics which the market alleges women “really want” absolutely wouldn’t work on the stiff-back-boned heroine she penned, nor did was the book something to drop casually into the romance-which-is-really-chick-lit barrel.

Her plot did have a unique edge.  And, no doubt, that uniqueness will continue in the future as she continues putting out another book.  And another.  And another.

As for my own work, featured in “Flock: The Journey,” she had this to say:

“Calo with Calo

This is a powerful story, armed not only with a load of relatable emotions but also with enough facts and historical background strewn in to thoroughly capture the mind. I find it very thought-provoking despite its shortness, toeing the line between the typical ‘forbidden love’ theme, immigrational woes, and the clash of cultures, generations and beliefs. Although this story is about Romani and takes the reader back into the past of America, it may well apply to today’s situation in some Asian countries and the issues that immigrants still face all around the world. I love the slight hints at ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and the phrases of Spanish to add authenticity.

The Proposal

This is another powerful, thought-provoking story by the author. With the use of minimal, well-chosen words and threats hanging in the air (spoken and unspoken), she pulls the reader right into the story. Emotions clash, egos war, and all the while you know things will end badly but still hope that Camelia and Timotei will get their happy ending. I like it that the author chose unusual characters, defying stereotypes in favour of really making the reader pause and get invested in the story. One sentence will stay in my mind for a long time because it’s painfully true and can be applied to so many contemporary conflicts too: ‘Perhaps they came only because, not wanting to be the odd ones out, they were falling in line with their compatriots.’”

Thank you for your feedback, Ms. Fernando!

For those interested, you can follow her here:

www.devikafernando.com

https://www.facebook.com/devikafernandoauthor

 

 

 

Why “the Secret Life of Gypsies” is a Lie

An article recently popped up announcing that the White actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, was due to play Romani author, “Mikey Walsh,” (a pseudonym to “protect” the author from reprisal,) in an adaptation of Walsh’s autobiography, “Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies.”  I observed the distasteful comments under the article, written by various Roma from across the world, which ran in the direction of, “Oh, gee, what a surprise.  Yet another Romani role that the movie industry hires non-Roma to play.”  Yes, once again, even before shooting has begun, the actual Roma community–the people who are about to be portrayed and, most likely, wind up trashed by stereotypes onscreen–are unhappy.  But, as usual, that won’t matter.  (When does it ever?)

I could have spent my time writing a “Dr. Mr. Cumberbatch, don’t you have a conscience?” article.  I could have pointed out that this is not the day and age when White actors taking the roles of people of color–yes, fyi, Mr. Cumberbatch, that’s what Roma people are–is any longer tolerated.  I could note that, back in the 1950s or so, perhaps, as an actor, you could say that everybody does this, which makes it okay.  But only a few weeks ago, there was plenty of press when a Jewish actor, Ed Skrein, pulled out of a major role when he realized that the character was Japanese. If Skrein can forego a potential advance in his career, citing ethical reasons, what excuse do you have, Cumberbatch, to be playing a Rom?

In a word: YOU DON’T.

Non-Roma actors playing Roma roles does hurt the Romani community because, contrary to what casting directors out there might like to portray, there are a lot of talented Roma that can act.  And these people, because of crap like this, never get the opportunity.

Thus could my rant continue, but then I sat back and realized that, years earlier, I had heard of the book which was just about to be filmed and had refused to buy it on moral grounds.  I noted that there were perhaps much bigger issues here than another racially-entitled twit taking one of our roles.  The question which popped into my mind was, “Why was this movie being made at all?”

The answer: because the author had capitalized on one of the most pervasive and stellar Gadje (non-Romani) fantasies out there.  And it was this fantasy that had helped catapult his book to best-seller status.  The fantasy of White people suddenly being able to have an inside look into the “secret world of Gypsies.”  I swear to G-d, when you watch every single “Gypsy” reality show, nearly every film made about us, (yet again, very few of which have actual Roma in them and all of whom are definitely not made with a Romani audience as viewers in mind,) it’s like you’re staring at the proverbial “Indian in the Cupboard.”  The White person receives a magical key, puts a plastic “Gypsy” into the box, twists the lock, and gets to watch the little minority person dance a cultural jig when they come out on the other side.  The spectator says, “Oooh, ahh, isn’t that quaint and interesting?  But thank G-d, that’s not my life and my people are better than this!”

Sorry to pop your balloon, happy viewers, but this “insight” which you think that you are gaining does not exist.  Actual Roma people are plenty aware of this, just as we are aware that, periodically, one of our own likes to capitalize on your ignorance by making money from the stereotypes against their own kind.

As I said, I haven’t read Mikey Walsh’s book.  I don’t intend to.  And it’s difficult to review a book that you haven’t read…unless that book has certain general traits which can bring about harm to you and yours on a personal level.  Being Romani myself, Walsh’s book impacts me personally, because the things he claims in it, I will have to live with and be judged by, as will all the other Roma that I will ever encounter.

Had his book been presented in an even half-way non-racist and credible fashion, I would have bought it, but the marketing which catapulted his autobiography to fame was, backwards and forwards, an ethnic smear campaign.  Did he foresee this would happen?  Of course, he did.  Anyone from the Romani community with the slightest degree of common sense would have.  Did he do anything to calm down the fire of growing racism which he had started?  To the contrary, he fanned those flames.  While making money for it.

Just what is his subtitle “My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies” supposed to signify?

What response would fellow Roma have to the amazon description of his book?

“An Eye-Opening Memoir of Growing Up Gypsy

Mikey Walsh was born into a Romany Gypsy family. They live in a secluded community, and little is known about their way of life. After centuries of persecution, Gypsies are wary of outsiders, and if you choose to leave you can never come back.

This is something Mikey knows only too well.

Growing up, he didn’t go to school, he seldom mixed with non-Gypsies, and the caravan became his world. It was a rich and unusual upbringing, but although Mikey inherited a vibrant and loyal culture his family’s legacy was bittersweet, with a hidden history of violence and grief. Eventually Mikey was forced to make an agonizing decision—to stay and keep secrets, or escape and find somewhere to belong.

Gypsy Boy shows, for the first time, what life is really like among the Romany Gypsies. A surprise #1 bestseller in Great Britain, this is a one-of-a-kind memoir of a little-seen world, one both fascinating and heartbreaking.”

Well, there you have it.  Walsh is the authority.  And his experience will speak for the rest of us…right?

An opening criticism to Walsh or any other individual who claims to have the magic window for Whites into Romani culture…one of the reasons that this is patently impossible is because Romani culture is, point of fact, Romani cultureS.  Yes, plural.  Ours is very much, for lack of a better term, a tribal system; has been ever since our ancestors, who came from many different backgrounds in India, left our original homeland.  And, while there are the more populous tribes at the top, there are plenty of smaller ones.  As we are a world-wide diaspora, each tribe has its own specific history, linguistic dialect, mannerisms, and even clothing trends.  And what works for UK Romanies, despite them getting much more publicity than many of these other tribes because they live in an English-speaking country, does not necessarily, and, in many cases, not at all, work for Roma in other countries.

For example: Walsh portrays the caravan lifestyle, which is very popular in literature, but extremely few Roma, percentage-wise, actually live this way.  Many Romani families have gone several centuries since anyone in their family did this.  Sorry, I know that doesn’t sound “romantic” or “free-spirited,” but it’s a stone-cold fact.

To put the stupidity of Romani cultural generalization in an American perspective: you might as well film something on the secret world of Native Americans, presenting in the film/ book/ other media, that there’s no cultural difference between the Navajos and the Cherokee, between the Lakota and the Inuit; et cetera.

Another criticism to Walsh, who underwent severe physical abuse in his family, and then wound up basically protesting that this is just the Romani way; that it’s not abuse, but a cultural difference?  HOW DARE YOU!  I would have compassion for what you went through, if you were not helping to ensure that other Romani children in abusive situations do not receive aid, but by claiming that this is a “cultural difference” that’s exactly what you are doing.

Worldwide, Roma parents face massive discrimination from the day their children are born.  The quality of their parenting doesn’t factor in whatsoever.  If a child is being beaten, for certain, it should be removed from the custody of the one doing it and the perpetrator should be jailed.  Now, if you take a routine reader, who has never met an actual Romani person, and here, in print is a Romani person telling a story about grotesque child abuse, but then justifying it as a cultural difference, you’re going to have two things happen:

  • Gadje will feel that the automatic removal of Romani children from their families is thoroughly justified in order to spare said children from a life of physical abuse. This attitude will result in bigotry directed against mainstream Roma who do not abuse their children.  Those families will be harassed, by neighbors and by government agencies.  Those families will have to worry about said agencies trying to remove their children purely on racial grounds.
  • When Romani children are in abusive households, if they try to obtain help from authorities, like their teachers or the police, some authorities will refuse to help them, stating that the abuse is simply a cultural norm. In other words, the authority will care more about preserving their public image as politically correct and “not interfering” than doing their actual job and keeping the child safe.

Certain things violate human rights.  We all understand this on a basic, instinctive level.  You don’t have to be White or Romani to know that a father beating his son with a shovel, as portrayed in Walsh’s book, is a criminal action which must be prosecuted.  You don’t need to be Romani or White to know that beating one’s wife unconscious, again, portrayed in Walsh’s book, is a criminal action which must be prosecuted.

There is no excuse for it.

There is no “culture difference” which makes it, or things like it, okay.

It’s actually infuriating, to my mind, pathetic, that a Romani woman has to use her status of being Romani to say, “Yes, indeed, even Romani women and children deserve to not be beaten.  Regardless of the aggressor’s ‘justification’ for why, it’s still abuse.”  Because any outsider that needs to be told this is still abuse, regardless of my race and cultural background, shouldn’t be reading books written by the likes of Walsh in the first place.  That’s the type of person who lacks all ability to see us as equally human, with the same ability to feel pain, as they themselves.

Did violence get a free pass in Walsh’s case?  I don’t disbelieve him that it happened.  But what does that really mean?  Is he unique?  No.  A lot of instances of domestic violence, sadly, meet with no help.  Watch Lifetime TV any day of the week and you’ll find a movie about some poor woman or child whose relatives, neighbors, et cetera, knew about the violence going on and yet refused to do anything.  It’s not cultural.  It’s a negative human trait which you would find in any town across the world.

I myself am a child domestic violence survivor.  Intense violence.  But, unlike Walsh, however, I don’t lay this at the feet of the Romani people.  I lay this at whose feet it belongs—the guilty parties’.  And if I published about that violence, for certain, I would not use my status as Romani to help sell copies.  I would not claim in my subtitle that my life was any kind of norm by which other Roma should be judged because, frankly, I know very well that it absolutely is not.

What would I do if I saw a Romani man beating his wife or child?  I would call the cops.  And that’s, sadly for audiences, the reaction that a great deal of Roma would have.  No, not all.  But neither would all White people.  Your reaction in such an instance depends upon your personal integrity.  Would that we were all willing to stick our necks out for others, but this is not the case.

A further criticism for that book: sorry to disappoint White audiences yet again, but, like the stereotype of Romani women all being knife-fighters, not all Romani men are groomed to be bare-knuckle boxers.  The sport may be very popular in some areas, but definitely not in all.  (Any who doubt this would note that serious bare-knuckle boxing does significant damage to the hands, not to mention your opponent’s teeth.  If the stereotype were true, Romani men’s hands would pretty uniformly be torn up and a large percentage of them would have massive dental damage.  Unless, that is, Walsh alleges they just aren’t very good at it.)  To be honest, I’ve never even seen a single bare-knuckle fight, nor the aftermath of one, in my life.  Where I’m from, the boys were told that to truly prove yourself, you had to use your intelligence.  I heard proverbs to the tune of how anyone can be strong, but true worth comes from your wits.  In my family and in many other Romani families that we associated with, the goal was to work hard in school, get into a university, and be more than the dirt that mainstream society expected us to be.

But books and films about Romani men who wind up with college degrees, or, as some of the men in my family did, as actual college professors, don’t sell.  To the contrary, whenever such people are portrayed, it is always as though they have betrayed their culture, “turned White,” and no longer can be acknowledged as Romani at all.  In other words, just like those ancestors of ours who were slaves, we are good enough to show our worth through physical exertion, particularly if Gadje ever get to be entertained by it, but must remember our place as having inferior capabilities when it comes to our brains.

Several decades ago, a film came out, portraying nomadic Roma in America.  Child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes were rampant.  Education was non-existent.  As one Romani woman later told me, “That movie made me hate my own people.”  And yet White Americans loved it.  It starred Eric Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, and numerous other non-Roma actors.

I once spoke to a cousin of the family portrayed in said film, “The King of the Gypsies,” and she related how, decades later, they still live with its stigma, its lies, and how they know that it brought damage to the community as a whole.  I felt sorry for her, particularly as I knew that, when the book and later film were put out, it was hailed as the window into our secret, forbidden world.

If the portrayal in it was accurate, it would still only represent one family.  But that was irrelevant to the masses viewing it in theatres.

Just as, even if everything that Walsh is saying is accurate, the fact that he and his personal experiences do not represent all Romani culture will also be ignored by film-goers.

Perhaps Hollywood needs one of these “Gypsy lives are awful” stories every few years though.  “The King of the Gypsies” certainly established there is a market for it.  The “Gypsy reality shows,” even though they were wildly inaccurate and typically had Irish Travellers, not Romani people, onscreen, shows that people just can’t get enough these days of hating on us.

In closing, I will simply point out one thing to Walsh’s fans about his book’s description’s first paragraph—its reference to cultural shunning.  Perhaps it would be wise for Walsh to note that, when you take it upon yourself to trash and blame your own people as a general whole for your own personal traumas, you shouldn’t be all that shocked when they don’t want to be around you afterwards.  Or when they won’t support your stereotype-loving memoir that absolutely gets its life force from the fact that non-Roma racists are looking to justify their negative beliefs about us.  What you call a cultural trait, others would simply call the golden rule.  Or karma.

Review by and Interview with Rabbi Bonnie Lawrence

Galina Trefil and Bonnie Lawrence

 

While reading back her interpretation of the weekly Torah portion in rabbinical school, the retired lawyer, Bonnie Lawrence, brought up the suffering of the Romani victims of Auschwitz.  I sat back, listening to her compassion, and knew that she was more than just a classmate, but the kind of ally which I wished more Roma were aware exist.

The degree of backing which rabbis would give the Romani people, I often feel, in recent years has been grossly underestimated and, without doubt, as anti-Semitism has become steadily more popular, it has also very intentionally been misrepresented by certain branches of the mass media.  Certainly very contrary to the history of the relationship between the Roma and Jews, some sources have gone out of their way to allege an enmity between Europe’s two most traditional targets for persecution and genocide.  The history of Jewish-Romani alliances has become an inconvenience–a fact which non-Jewish/ non-Romani ethnic & religious Supremacists want very deeply buried.  Because, as both cultures suffer constant modern-day attack, it certainly would be no help to these outside Supremacists if such alliances were maintained.  Division is very much in their best interests.

As a Romani Jewish rabbi, I will share a bit of personal feedback here….

Ours was a small class, but Rabbi Bonnie Lawrence was far from the only member in it to advocate for better recognition of the Romani Holocaust or for Romani equal rights today.  To my amazement, I was not the only Romani Jew in our class studying for her degree.  And another rabbi-to-be was actually married to a part-Romani woman.  Yet another future rabbi, Americo Couto, at one point, even strummed his guitar, singing in Hebrew for the class.  When the teacher complimented the unfamiliar melody, Rabbi Americo Couto replied that the tune was commonly used for this Jewish hymn in Portugal–but its origins were not Jewish; instead Romani. This was a result of how often Romani and Jewish musicians had played together in Portugal.  He then shared with the class a few tidbits of how, when Roma were targeted in Portugal, they would be taken in by the Jewish community and passed off as Jews.  When Jews were the targets, the Roma community took them in and passed them off in turn as Romani.

Entering rabbinical school, I had not been sure how my mixed heritage would be taken, but every single one of my classmates made me feel completely welcomed.

I was very open that I had hopes to use my rabbinate to give aid to those of mixed Jewish-Romani ancestry, which Rabbi Bonnie very much supported.  At the time that I said the words, I did not think this community would be very large.  Since then, I have come into personal contact however with roughly near to one hundred families of Romani-Jewish ethnic origin.  Due to the double-bigotry they receive, the majority of the Romani-Jews that I meet tend to choose only one heritage that they will publicly acknowledge.  There are several rabbis that I have found who, dependent upon the personal sect of Judaism which the individual follows, would welcome people of mixed Jewish-Romani background into their congregation.  One such individual is Rabbi Bonnie Lawrence.

 

Now that “Flock: The Journey” has been released, both on amazon.com and amazon.in, I asked Rabbi Bonnie for feedback on my contributions….

She responded:

“‘Calo with Calo’ is the story of immigrant Roma parents struggling with maintaining their cultural values with their adolescent son in the melting pot of America.  The reader is immediately engaged in the story and understands the dynamics involved. The plot twist caught this reader off guard yet it reveals the true impact of the struggles involved in maintaining cultural values and heritage. A must read.

The title of ‘The Proposal’ suggests a torrid romance between two adults. Yet as I was drawn into the story I realized that this is an adolescent tragedy reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. It is set in the middle of a pogrom and the violence and raw emotions of the characters are deeply felt. It is engaging, heart wrenching, and very well written.”

In giving her thanks for her feedback, I discovered that she too is soon to debut a book come this Thanksgiving.  Was it a rabbinical book?  A book revolving around law?  No.  Instead, she had chosen to write something more intimate, weaving into it a new method with which to further enable personal rights, clarity, and healing.  As she summarizes:

“‘Who Stole Your Crayons (r) and How to Get Then Back!’is the author’s intimate story of how she went from feeling broken inside to feeling a sense of wholeness, joy, peace and love.  She shares how she went from throwing away her art project at age 6 to reclaiming her creativity as a spiritual adult woman.  The book is an anthology consisting of the Guidebook/workbook; Journal and coloring book.  The book provides you with the tools you need for your own spiritual journey.  For more information about the book and to purchase it contact the author: Bonnie Lawrence at Crayons613@gmail.com “

I was intrigued and discovered that, after graduating from rabbinical school, my former classmate had become a Master Trainer and Practitioner for Repetitive Behavior Cellular Regression.

When she sent me this message, a nice, large question mark loomed over my head, so I responded sheepishly, “In layman’s terms?”

“It is a nonlinear biomedical process,” she told me.  “We facilitate people remembering long repressed events that run and ruin their life. They then can release them from their cellular memory and move forward in their lives.”

(Yes, this definitely sounded like the compassionate Rabbi Bonnie that I remembered.)

“And the book deals with this method?”

“I discuss it in the book.  It is one chapter.”

“That’s very interesting….  I have not heard of this method before.  Is it purely psychological or does it use scientific equipment?  Like an EEG?”

“No medical.  No equipment or drugs involved.  We work with repressed memories. Get them present.  Then get them released.”

“How long has this method been around?”

“My mentor developed this about 4 years ago.”

“How long does the process generally take?  More, less, or the same time as traditional therapy?”

“A lot less.  One session via Skype lasts about 2 to 3 hours.  Follow up is a few months of journaling and checking in with the practitioner.”

“This is not done in an office?  So the treatment could happen in a person’s own home?  With practitioner anywhere in the world?  Sounds like cutting edge, technology-wise.”

“Exactly.  We help anyone, any place.  They just need Skype and the willingness to help one’s self.”

I asked her to let me know more details when “Who Stole Your Crayons (r) and How to Get Then Back!” is due for release.

It is a nice thing to reflect on how, sometimes, early difficulties can lead to one dedicating their life to the growth of those around them.

Little moments like these, when I reflect on the way that both Romani and Jewish culture today is under fire, serve to remind that, while both have been through so much hardship, neither have ever been defeated.  And neither will be in the future.

 

Why Romani-Indian Relations MUST Improve

I recall very clearly the first time someone told me, “Go back to India!”  I wasn’t taken aback, not degraded, despite the racist’s attempt to make me feel so.  The only true emotion that registered was surprise…surprise that it had taken this many years of working in Romani rights for me to hear the “insult” that so many of my phrals and phens have had hurled at them.

It made me reflect on what, as a Romani woman, India meant to me.  Regrettably, I often feel that it might mean something different than for many other Roma.  Put extremely lightly, in no way did my childhood resemble that of a normal Romani youngster.

A few positive things about it were however that, while my mother had no knowledge at the time of having Romani ancestry, she did have a respect for India which prompted her to, for years, study Hindi in college.  I grew up watching her scribble notes in devanagari when she was angry or wanted to keep something to herself.  While other relatives, myself included, might be enjoying Bollywood, my mother was the one who would be scoffing to the side that the dancing was no good because true, classical Indian dancing was among the finest in the world and settling for less than that was unacceptable.  Our house had ancient Indian literature in its library.  And the comic book collection that I had wasn’t Superwoman and other popular White characters.  I grew up, instead, on dozens upon dozens of Amar Chitra Katha’s Indian folk legends to study.  So naturally, a fascination with Indian culture and history was, through these many things, deeply ingrained in me as far back as I can remember.

As a child, I was lied to about my heritage, as many Roma children, to avoid discrimination, have been.  In retrospect, I often wonder if this was due to my complexion, which was much lighter than most in my family.  As with Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, and Jews, fair-skinned Romani children have a history of being kidnapped and “adopted” by White families.  Repeatedly, this happened in my father’s family in the 18th century.  Upon my birth, my father expressed great displeasure at my skin color, eye color, and, later, my hair color as well.  Too light, was his consistent complaint.  His mother would state that she was afraid that I would be kidnapped on account of my looks.

Many years before I found out what we really were, I knew that the ethnicity that my father claimed was not accurate.  There were too many ways that the story just wasn’t kept sufficiently straight. And, while at home, I was self-conscious on account of my color being too light, at school, other kids, dumbfounded and all-too-curious about what my racial background was, would pick at my hair and spit on me.

Typically, I was assumed incorrectly to be Native American.  On one occasion, a teacher who was prejudice against Natives allowed me to be punched in the face only feet from him, then smirked at me for well-over a half hour while both nostrils and my mouth would not stop bleeding.  The school suggested that, to fix the situation and protect me from the violence of the other children, I be removed from regular classes and placed in special education along with the mentally handicapped.

While the bigotry only got worse, I oftentimes sat alone, wishing I could just know why this was happening to me.  Who were my ancestors?  Where did they really come from that I was having to put up with this now?  Where was the positive to balance the negative?  The things which I could point to and take pride in at the moments when gangs of other kids were doing their best to beat me up?

I was twelve when I discovered a treasure trove of pre-World War II photographs, taken in Moravia.  The contents of those photographs undeniably shouted that our Whiteness, on my paternal grandfather’s side, was an utter lie.  I confronted my father…and then later my grandmother.  Both finally admitted that my grandfather was Romani.  For good measure, my grandmother admitted that, though not Romani herself, she was not fully White either, but part-Tatar.

The relief was immeasurable!  Even though I didn’t know exactly what being Romani meant, knowing the truth finally was a weight off my shoulders that only those who have been forced to pass for what they aren’t can truly understand.

But the joy was soon enough short-lived because I began to realize that, but for a tiny handful, the people in those beautiful photographs were no longer alive.  Nor were their children.  What had happened to them?

I would pursue this line of inquiry for years and, despite my grandmother’s strict refusal to talk about the Holocaust, began to piece bits of data together.  Eventually, I managed to track down the daughter of my grandmother’s best friend, who was also a distant cousin.  She was shocked to know that I was not aware that both of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors.  She told me what of the story had been passed down to her by her own mother–that my grandparents, though living in Chicago, had returned to Czechoslovakia due to my grandfather being offered a university teaching position in Prague.  When they got there, while visiting relatives in Moravia, at or near to a train station, a massacre occurred.  Whether the offenders were Germans or Czechs, whether it was an official Nazi-ordered slaughter or local Czech racists taking things into their own hands, were details lost to time.  My grandmother huddled inside an apartment or house, while the perpetrators would lean in through windows at shoot at people inside.

Years after my grandmother’s death–by which time I had found out she had significant Jewish ancestry as well, which she had covered up–I found a letter written by her mother, talking of my grandmother’s son, “Tonda.”  There was one problem.  My grandparents had never admitted to having a son named this.  The letter was dated years prior to the massacre.  My grandmother’s brother, on being confronted with this, further admitted, yes, my grandparents had, had children other than my father and living uncle.  He referenced an unnamed baby of theirs being shot to death during the massacre in Moravia.  As for the older child, whether or not he was shot is not confirmed.  The only clear fact is that he did not return to the United States.

The only prior evidence to these confessions remains in the photographs from Moravia–ironically, taken at a train station near or in Kromeriz, with my grandfather repeatedly cuddling a child, maybe one and a half to two years old, while a second child, who looks the age that Tonda would have been.  The two children are wearing hand-sewn, matching outfits.  The one’s face resembles my father’s.

How do you come to terms with knowing that your family was murdered?  Well, you don’t.  Not really.

There are always the “what if” questions.  What if my grandparents hadn’t gone back so my grandfather could pursue his academic career?  What if, as I later found one other relative from Eastern Europe did, the rest of the family had managed to escape to another continent?

A statement which many Jews have often said is that, if the Jewish state had been available during World War II, six million would not have died.  Yes, indeed, a nice little tidbit historians like to overlook about the Holocaust is how many countries refused to take in the refugees of Hitler’s hate.  My own g-g-grandmother, upon appearing on US shores, was sent back by the government to die in Europe, despite having family here desperate to take her in.

After World War II, pogroms against the Romani in Europe never truly stopped. Roma are frequent victims of hate crimes, human trafficking, sexual assault, forced sterilization, segregated schooling, oh, how the list does go on and on.  And during many of these attacks, those violent yell that infamous line, “Go back to India!”

So, as a Romani woman who has worked in Romani rights for roughly a decade and a half, I have a response to this “insult.”

What would happen if we did?

Not all of us, granted, but what if Roma–who can prove their Indian heritage with a simple DNA test–started to apply for Indian passports?

In 1984, 8000 Ethiopian Jews, and then later, in 1991, another 14,000 Ethiopian Jews, facing starvation and violence, were airlifted to safety in rescue missions by the Israeli government.  Those Jews, returning to the land of their ancestors, became Israeli citizens.

When I think of their escape, I cannot help but wonder, when World War II’s mass murder of the Romani people was coming, if it had been possible, would not the Romani have jumped at the opportunity, Hell, desperately ran towards the possibility of Indian rescue and citizenship to the country of THEIR ancestors?  What would my family, facing the firing squad, have not done for the chance for even just their children to lay full claim to their heritage and escape?

I have met other Roma people, particularly Romani politicians, that say a return to India is not worth pursuing.  This baffles me.  How can you claim this concept is pointless at the same time that many acknowledge Europe could easily enough backslide into another Holocaust?  How can this be said just a few decades after the Roma of Kosovo underwent ethnic cleansing?

I have an opinion on this which shan’t make me popular.  Many of our top leaders have failed us. They have not made contact with the Indian embassies.  They have neglected Indian politicians who might have been interested in helping us.  They have encouraged the victimized mindset because it gives them personally opportunities to stay speaking on a podium, reminding us of all the ways that mainstream society has kicked us in the teeth.  In some instances, they have even actively discouraged interaction with Indians and Indian alliances because it could cost them part of their following to hear that there might be an alternative to suffering.  I have no doubt that some of our politicians would take offense to such allegations.  And, no, I can’t prove it…because, in my years working behind the scenes, I didn’t bother carrying a tape recorder.  But those who disbelieve can simply inquire when the last time our leaders seriously advocated working with our Indian brethren was.  When was the last time that they followed through?

Why is this alliance, which could potentially be crucial to our survival, being ignored?

Many Roma are happy living exactly where they are.  And that’s great for them.  But our community needs to face a major fact–particularly in Eastern Europe, there are a lot of Roma who would likely be very happy to immigrate to our homeland.  The conditions that the Roma in many Eastern European countries face, by many of our politicians in the West, is too often swept under the rug.  This cannot be allowed to continue.

How to move forward?  Education.  Education.  Education!

When I discovered that I was Romani, I was forced to study the culture that I came from.  I was incredibly fortunate that, so much of what I discovered, it turned out, I already knew because I had above-average familiarization with Indian customs and traditions.  Are the two cultures the same?  Obviously not.  But Romani culture has maintained a tremendous amount more of its Indian background than those untutored in Indian traditions are likely to guess.

Because of my upbringing, I do not now and have never seen us as anything but Diaspora Indians.  Because of my DNA analysis, I am proud to even know exactly what parts of India and what Indian groups I belong to.

Have I debated, as a Romani woman, pursuing Indian citizenship?  Absolutely, yes. And I am not the only one in my family to do so.  Whether it ever actually happens or not, that is a choice that I would make based on the knowledge that I have and what I feel is best for me and my family.

What I would wish most for my people is that each of them have the same tools with which to judge whether or not they would pursue the same thing.

Our leaders have a responsibility to forward the education of our FULL history, not just what happened to us after we encountered Europeans.  They have a responsibility to reach out to our brethren across the sea who, if the racists decide to slaughter us all again, might try to help ensure this does not happen.

This is not a potential alliance based on whimsy, but quite possibly necessity.

And it needs to start being treated as such.

 

Reviewed by Leena Pandey

I first encountered blogger/ reviewer Leena Pandey back in 2016, when my short story “Lolo’s Daughter” was published in UnBound Emagazine #2.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/656583

“Lolo’s Daughter” was the first Romani short story–honestly, the first good short story for any topic–that I had ever written.  Hands down, everything else short that I’d ever done up until then wasn’t worth wasting a warthog’s sneeze on.  So, when I began to type, I had just about zero confidence and was only daring to try out the unfamiliar genre due to some gentle nudging by Neil D’Silva, Varun Prabhu, and Vanita Bodke, three of the moderators of my favorite literary group, “For Writers by Authors.”  (FWBA)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ForWritersByAuthors/

I never expected “Lolo’s Daughter” to make the cut.  When it did, I never anticipated that anyone would take the time to review it.  Ms. Pandey did however, without any prompting, and her words bounced enough through my brain that, at the time, I started to wonder if, so long as the subject material was near enough to my heart, maybe I was more capable of the job than I had previously given myself credit for. This was not so much because of her giving me a favorable review, but more because of what she seemed to take out of the story:

“Lolo, a pure Romani man, is upset that his daughter is interested in a white boy and arranges her marriage with a Romani boy though she is only 16.  The daughter, unnamed throughout the story, tries to explain that she wants to first study and pursue a career but he doesn’t listen.  Frustrated, the daughter runs away with the white boy.  The rest of the story is about Lolo’s conflicting feelings about her running away.

The story is beautifully written and I could easily relate with it because of the many similarities with the Indian culture.  Even though I disagree with Lolo, I could understand his point of view.

A couple of niggling questions at the end of the story – Is the daughter’s husband the same as the boy she left with?  What is the daughter’s name?  These questions are not important to the story and perhaps that is why Galina has left them unanswered. In fact, Lolo seems to come to terms with his daughter’s treachery (in his eyes) only when he realizes that he doesn’t even remember the name of the girl he is considering as a wife for his son.

All in all, a superb story.”

–Leena Pandey

At the time, I was only used to my Romani work being seen and treated as “exotic.” This term, which many authors might think is worthy of aspiring to, is, in so many regards, a death sentence on your portfolio.  Novelty always wears off.  Trends stop being trendy.  In the end, a writer has to be able to bring a lot more to the reader’s raw emotional table than what might be ultimately no more than a passing fad.

Yes, I wanted to write things showcasing Romani culture and events, but I did not want an audience to afterwards think of the characters as different, unusual, foreign; et cetera.  What do such labels ultimately do for Romani equal rights, after all, but condemn them to the garbage can?  In Hollywood and in popular literature, however, the slot of “exotic” tends to be the best that a Romani character can get and even that is rarely-achieved.

Ms. Pandey’s understanding of Lolo, of character motives in general, and her ability to relate left me wondering later….  Should I write more?  Ultimately, I put together an entire short story anthology, “Low Caste Girl,” which is currently seeking publication.  Without a doubt, without FWBA’s administrators, critics, and the many authors that I befriended there urging me along, that entire book would never have happened.  Without this crowd’s support, I certainly would also not have kept entering future submissions for UnBound Emagazine, which is what ultimately led me to making the acquaintance of Mahua Sen, the editor of “Flock: The Journey.”

Now that “Flock: The Journey” has premiered, once again, Ms. Pandey has been kind enough to review the two stories of mine that made it into the book.  And the last line, in particular, which she pens in her second paragraph absolutely speaks to one of the strongest goals that I have for all my Romani literature.

In the modern world, Romani stories written by multiple Romani authors are needed, yes, but with themes which can cross the boundaries and be relatable with other peoples.

https://wordjini.wordpress.com/2017/09/03/review-of-flock-the-journey-by-galina-trefil/

Ms. Pandey writes:

“I recently got a chance to read two stories from Flock: The Journey, by Galina Trefil. Both stories, Calo with Calo and The Proposal, though very different, have a romance at their core.

In Calo with Calo, teenaged Milo Dimitrov is entranced with the girl next door. In a really equal world, this should have been a simple love story. But the girl next door belongs to a conflicting Romani clan so Milo’s parents obviously don’t want his attraction to develop into anything more. At one level, the story is simply about teenage rebellion. That spark within you that makes you thrust your chin out and do exactly what your parents tell you not to. But if you have any familiarity with the intricacies of a caste system (whether Indian or Romani), the story is also about the fight between traditionalism and modernism. Milo, new to America, would like to throw away the shackles of traditionalism and be free to love whoever he wants to. At the same time, he is traditional enough to feel more attracted to a fellow Romani girl than to other American girls whom he can pursue with less difficulty and certainly less opposition. The author has managed to bring out all the complexities of relationships between immigrants in a foreign world. So while this story is essentially Romani, you can see that it could easily have been that of an Indian boy and a Pakistani girl in America, or even a Punjabi boy and a Malayali girl.

In The Proposal, fourteen-year-old Timotei Hagi asks young Camelia Avramescu to marry him, while they are both huddled inside a small house, hiding from a rampaging mob outside. Camelia doesn’t think much of Timotei, and indeed, even Timotei is not that much in love with Camelia. Why then does he propose to Camelia? Especially when, at any moment, the mob outside could break through their barricades and eliminate the entire tribe in a matter of minutes? Timotei can’t rescue Camelia and her family. He can’t single-handedly take on and vanquish the enemy. He is too young for all that. But this heartwarming story is about a different sort of bravery. It is about the courage you need to put away your own fears and try to make the world a better place for someone else, if only for a few minutes.

Both stories have left me wanting more. Looking forward to reading the rest of Flock: The Journey.”

Thank you so much, Leena Pandey!

On her blogsite, Ms. Pandey tells viewers this about herself:

“I have been reading voraciously since the age of five when I first discovered the joys of reading. I would lap up anything in print. Unrolling an emptied newspaper cone with one hand, stuffing roasted peanuts in my mouth with the other, all the while devouring the printed content on the cone with my eyes, was one of my first experiences in hedonistic pleasure. In fact, sometimes I feel that I am on an adventurous journey through the secret dreamworld of other people’s imaginations, interspersed with occasional visits to my own life to attend events like graduation, first job, marriage, and so on. As a true-blue reader, I think I am uniquely qualified to comment on and critique other people’s works of labour. I can tell exactly what puts the average reader to sleep, what sets their pulse racing, and what has them salivating for more. Write to me at leenatpandey@gmail.com.”

Her website can be located at:

https://wordjini.wordpress.com/

Her reviews for all the entries of UnBound Emagazine #2:

https://wordjini.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/unbound-2-review/