As Simon J. Ortiz asked in the preface of his book from Sand Creek, “How to deal with history?” It’s a question I find myself asking on a regular basis. How do I, as a Romani, deal with history? My history is hidden in footnotes and addendums, an afterthought to historical narrative. We have had no part in history – at least not the kind found in textbooks and scholarly papers. We have no “home”, no state, no roots, and so we have no voice. We’re corralled in ghettos and behind walls, out of sight out of mind – and out of history. We have been made to disappear, to become invisible, to vanish.
We have been effectively silenced. Historically absent.
Colonial history embraces it’s own victory dance, placing pig farms on my ancestors bones and rounding down the horrors that we suffered until we’re only a breath from not suffering, or existing, at all. We have been a major and important part of European history, but were we really a part of something so despicable as that? My grandmother could never decide. Her stories told of difficult journeys, won by the brave and the strong, but her eyes told of something else. Most of my relatives preferred not to face it and deal with it, erasing it in their own minds as best they could. As Ortiz states, society “insulates itself within an amnesia that doesn’t acknowledge that kind of history. The victors can afford that, it seems, as long as they maintain control and feel that they don’t have to face the truth”.
But, neither did we face the truth. Hiding it away behind stories and songs and poems. Footnotes in our own history.
We’re caught in an eddy, a whirlpool that keeps us trapped under the surface, unseen and unheard. Despite the growing numbers of professional Roma, including academics, the blank stares and question marks still litter our lives.
Until we find the words to tell our own histories, as broken and painful as they might be, we will always be an afterthought.