On April 8, Roma around the world celebrate the International Roma Day. Commemorating the fight for recognition of Roma culture, history, and rights, millions of Roma around Europe and beyond celebrate the progress and remind about the long way ahead. At REYN, April 8 serves as a prompt to continue efforts to make future better for young Romani and Traveller children.
More than a flower in the hair
At many places, including kindergartens and schools with Romani children, the International Roma Day is celebrated with culture in mind. Roma music is played, Roma cuisine is served, and Roma folk costumes dressed. On this day, some warmhearted teachers put on their flowered skirts, red blouses and put a flower in their hair.
Such cultural (mis)appropriation presents a danger to healthy formation of ethnic identity of Romani children. At an early age, they learn that their culture is about flowers and music, dancing and a lot of meaty dishes. Contradicting the world of business attire and new technologies, modern arts and school achievements, children are forced to pick between being Roma or being successful.
365 Roma days a year
In extreme cases, recognition of Roma in European societies is limited to not combing your hair a day in a year. It is generally accepted to be “Roma” on April 8 but not on the other days of the year. On April 9, when children go back to school, the Roma flag from the corridor will disappear, the music will stop playing and the kitchen will continue to serve regular food.
One day of celebrating stereotyped Romipen (‘being a Roma’ in Romani language) does not change the situation. Roma deserve a full year of Roma days after the years of oppression. And most importantly, Romani children should be celebrating diversity together with all other children and enjoying their different cultures.
The day is what we make it
Roma are rarely in full control of the events related to them. Some of the worst examples include discussions about Roma in inclusion policies that do not consult with Roma. There is a lot to do also with regards to Romani parents empowerment and their active involvement in early childhood education of their children. However, we can control much of our day right now.
The International Roma Day is in control of Roma in terms of what we decide to support with our presence. We can choose to become tokens. Or we can choose to be active citizens with our rights, wherever we are. We can still dance, eat traditional meals, even put flowers in our hair, while continuing the fight for quality life for Romani and Traveller children.