by Patricia Caro Maya
Sisters, cousins and aunts:
I am writing this letter because I have been watching us close up and from far away for a long time, listening to our pleas when we met in intimacy, sharing mixed conversations over coffee about our needs as people, women and as Roma. We are not concerned about age, marital status or family ancestry. Taking as a source of strength the gender, difficulties and community we share, gaps are narrowed and we find ourselves with a salve to soothe our problems.
Together, we support each other as we can against the anxiety we feel about the expulsion of any of us, the illness of someone close or the economic hardship that would keep us from providing our people with a decent life. Together, we clamour for our men to remain level-headed and strong in an unjust world that often leads them to take refuge in perverse illusions and endless mazes. (Will they do the same for us when they are not with us?)
I live with the anxiety of our young people, who can feel the suspicious gazes that fall upon them on their way to school, where they are obliged to spend years in an institution that only expects them to get married and have lots of babies without providing them any real opportunities for success, participation, or at least to feel represented. Girls, influenced by the FEAR of Roma and paya (non-Roma) adults, believe that the only way they can change their lives is to get married. A haphazard search for protection within this hostile forest only to be faced with the unlikely task of finding in their midst Roma men capable of valuing their treasures and personal growth without themselves feeling undervalued. In the end our young Romani females struggle to survive and leave their happiness up to the lottery or to spinsterhood.
Sisters, cousins and aunts: I do not want us to sink into pain and helplessness because of the reality we live in, because that is not our nature. That the idea that things cannot be changed is a false tale that is fed into our heads so that we will sit and cry with no complaints and endure visible and invisible injustices. We must rise up with dignity and renew ourselves. We face many challenges ahead, so let’s start with the first one:
LEARNING TO DETECT THE DEMON OF VIOLENCE AGAINST GYPSY WOMEN (from many kilometres away if possible).
This demon has many faces. It can disguise itself as a TV show that ridicules our most cherished intimacies, and that can also disguise itself as POVERTY. It wears the “NO, BECAUSE YOU ARE A GYPSY” costume. And it publicly undresses you by yelling “YOU DO NOT EXIST”. It takes the shape of SILENCE and sometimes transforms itself into a person WE KNOW and who lives with us.
Let’s show some consideration for ourselves, for our culture and for future generations. LET’S DREAM.
I want us to exist, to be visible, and for us to make a difference in ourselves, the law, schools, society and politics, because doing otherwise would be inhuman, unjust and an affront to fundamental rights (which are ours too, even though that’s not what we’re used to hearing). I want us to choose to be teachers, doctors, homemakers, mothers, entrepreneurs, professionals, sellers… I don’t want us to die 30 years younger than payas, because we’ve got so much work to do for so much longer. I want Romani women to be fighters, because it’s what we’ve always been. We do not believe the lie that calls us submissive. Old women! Tell us your experiences when you travelled the roads with horses selling Holland sheets!
I want us to be UNITED and sit down with our men and let them know that they should be struggling by our side, as we always do. Let’s face up to our common enemies: FEAR and DEGRADATION. We should recover from our historical memory the notion that respect and love within Roma communities is the greatest STRENGTH we can rely on to adapt and survive in the 21st century, and that without them, we will have lost our main virtue: the ability to face and overcome adversity together (JUNT@S), always relying on the experience of our ELDERLY population.
I want us to sit down with gadje Women (non-Romani women) and tell them that this is everyone’s responsibility. We must fight together with respect for our cultural values because eradicating violence against Romani women will be a fundamental victory against PATRIARCHY and its need to exert dominant power and make us believe the lie that we are weak and that we are alone.
Sisters, cousins, aunts: it is my dream that we will once again be free, strong and courageous Romani women. Women who love and fight for their communities and for themselves. I know it’s difficult and that we’re tired of having to be the ones who try the hardest, but as an elderly woman once told me about respect: “The person who has the most gives the most”. Let us be the ones to lay the first stone, let us raise awareness among men so that they will help us build, and we should also ask for the support of payas. At the end of the day, it’s about making the stones along our path smaller and ensuring that future generations do not have such enormous obstacles to overcome, so that they don’t have to be gold-medal winning Olympic athletes to survive. To accomplish this we need to get to work in several areas:
LET US EDUCATE EACH OTHER, because we need all of our INTELLIGENCE.
LET US ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER, because we need all our ENTHUSIASM.
LET US GET ORGANISED, because we need the STRENGTH of everyone.
HEALTH AND FREEDOM. SASTIPÉN THAJ MESTIPÉN.