It’s hard to believe that it has been 3 years since I gave this interview to UNICEF. It seems as if it was yesterday that I had my interesting conversation with Edmond McLoughney, the UNICEF representative in Romania. We discussed about “Being a Roma in Romania,” educating Roma children and using effective strategies in underprivileged communities. All this – and much more – in the UNICEF newsletter.
Cristiana Grigore is a 24-year-old Roma woman who has just been awarded a Fulbright scholarship. Soon she will be going to the US to do a master’s degree at a top university. As one of only a small group of Roma female university graduates ready to embrace her ethnic identity, she is hardly typical. But she has been through all the usual Roma experiences, is proud of her ethnicity and is happy to talk about what it means. Her answers give plenty of food for thought, especially to those who may think they have all the answers to the problems faced by Roma.
So what’s it like to be a Roma?
When I was about 22, I started to accept my identity as a Roma. I have since managed to see myself as an individual who happens to be a Roma, and not in terms of the negative Roma stereotype, which unfortunately is how most Roma are perceived and some perceive themselves. I remember the shock I felt when my mother first told me I was a Roma. I was about six at the time, and it was like she had told me I had a terminal disease. All I had ever heard about Roma in the schoolyard and elsewhere was negative: that “gypsies are lazy and dirty” and even worse. So it turned my life upside down when I learned that I was one of “them”. It was too much for me to cope with and I lived in denial until I came to terms with my ethnicity several years later.