Love and Identity

“To marry or not to marry?” This is one of those monumental questions in life that, for me, has been made even more complicated by my identity. I am the child of a mixed marriage: my father is Roma, my mother is not. Growing up in Serbia, being only half Roma did not spare me from rejection, and for a long time I tried to hide my identity. Only recently have I begun to accept this part of me. But now I am faced with a new dilemma. What will happen to my identity when I decide to marry?

I vividly remember the moment I realized that some people would never accept one part of my family. It was the first time the kids in my neighborhood laid eyes on my cousin. He had come to our house, violin in hand, to play music with my father. I was young and I thought I could protect my cousin from their taunts (and perhaps also protect myself) by simply explaining that he wasn’t really different from us, his skin was just a bit darker from the sun. I’m a slightly embarrassed to admit this now as it wasn’t the cleverest of retorts, but I was young and still unaware of how to react to people’s taunts.

It wasn’t until I moved to Budapest that I began really spending time with other Roma. At first I felt strange, and even experienced a different kind of rejection. I encountered some Roma who believed that to be half-Roma was the same as not being Roma at all. But even though I didn’t have the words to defend against this idea, I knew deep down that it couldn’t be true. If I wasn’t really Roma, then what could I explain the feelings of hatred I experienced in Serbia?

Over time, I started to realize that it wasn’t other’s perceptions that mattered. What mattered was how I perceived myself. All the sudden it felt like a veil of ignorance had lifted. Everything seemed perfectly clear. It was no longer necessary to hide. And it didn’t matter what people thought. I knew I was Roma.

I worked to strengthen my acceptance of my identity and last summer decided to attend Barvalipe, a summer camp created to help instill pride in young Roma about their identity. Many camp participants were half-Roma like me, but it was there that the issue of marriage began to weigh heavily on my mind. I still can’t remember who made the comment but someone noted that when a half-Roma woman marries a gadzo (non-Roma guy), she will lose her Roma identity, and her children will be “cleansed” of any Roma roots. This was so upsetting to hear. I have been in a relationship with a gadzo for almost four years and he has supported me in my quest to understand my identity. What were my alternatives?

“To marry, or not to marry?” As I consider this question now, I am deeply torn. Should I abandon all the happiness that has embraced me? Even if I choose to marry a gadzo, I am not fully sure that I will be accepted within Serbian society. If I dedicate myself to finding a Roma husband, I am afraid that I will not be capable of adjusting to the costumes and traditions that have never been a part of my every-day life. My uncertainty is further increased by the fact that I don’t speak the Romani language. And what if my future Roma husband and I are divided with more serious boundaries, like religion? Is all of this simply justified by the fact that my husband is Roma? Is this what counts?

I am between two extremes that cannot be easily reconciled. Maybe I will ask my cousin what to do. He could very well say: “You are not really Roma. Your skin is just a bit darker from the sun,” pushing me into the gadzo`s hands. But I have never felt more Roma then I do now. I have accepted the Roma flag: the wheel and the blue and green colors are now part of me. Having embraced this identity I can no longer deny who I am. Once I accepted symbols that are strengthening my identity, I would choose any path needed to build myself completely. I am aware that my decision can become a burden in one moment, but I am willing to take that risk.

12 Comments

Dear Marina, your story is our truth. I am also a child from mixed marriage, as you know. With a full understanding of your struggles, I want to say-thank you for sharing your emotions with us. We need it.
Jelena

Dear Jelena,
this issue is something that really triggered my thoughts, thus it requires further discussions. I am open for comments, as always.

Best,
Marina.

Dear friends,sometimes people think that if there is love the identity and religion should be disregarded,what do you think of it.and my second question to you: do your parents have the same religion?

Dear Izabella,

My problem arose from the fact that I faced a new situation. I perceive religion as one of our identity`s constructors. I would never be able to convert to another confession because of my future partner, but I would be tolerant enough to accept his orientations. I truly believe that identity is a complex thing- it`s contained out of everything that you`ve been facing during the life. At least in my case- I grew up i Serbia and Bosnia, in the typically Orthodox environment and traditions. My mother is Serb from Bosnia, and my father is Roma from Serbia- with Romanian origin (They are both Orthodox). So, who am I, then? Serbian-Bosnian-Roma-Orthodox-Romanian? All those elements burdened my identity quest to some extend. But once I realized, that only being Roma makes my happiness unlimited, my inquiry was done.
Thus, it doesn`t matter who my future partner occurs to be(ethic/religion) as long as I embrace my identity in the same manner as I do now.

Best,
M.V.

Thank you for sharing, Marina!

I think that to be part-Romani and part-Serbian is not too complexed and risky as to be part-Romani and part-Jewish as me and some other Roma activists are!

In any case, for mixed people like us it is better to choose "main identity" and try your best to embrace it. Of course, the knowledge of Romani language can help. And anyone can learn it gradually in close communication with Roma from traditional background.

As for me, then I could not completely escape the antipathy of others toward my Romani background even in Israel, despite the fact that my paternal grandmother was Jewish and I grew up in a neighbourhood where half of residents were Jews...

I wish that the people in this world would be more tolerant and kind to one another. But while sharp opinion of "mainstream" society still defines people like us as "tzigane" we have to find the ways to survive.

I believe that existing for decades international Romani movement provides for people like us an opportunity to declare ourselves Roma and to invest into the progress of other Roma people!

And I am very glad that you are in the same direction with us!

Te aves baxtali!

Valery Novoselsky,
Executive Editor, Roma Virtual Network.
http://www.valery-novoselsky.org/romavirtualnetwork.html

Dear Marina,
It was very nice and impressive for me to read about your experience, thank you for sharing. I am also child from mixed marriage and I completly understand your feelings. I am sending you all best wishes! Be strong enough to make right decisions and whatå«s even more difficult - stand for them. Good luck, but bacht, phenije mirije!

Dear Katarina and Valery,

Thank you for these encouraging comments! I just hope to maintain this track that I`m willing to take. The issues of identity are complicated at the certain extend, but (as Valery underlined- living in the international community for sure helps a lot). Maybe if I wasn`t given this opportunity to go out of Serbia, I would never be able to perceive myself in a way that I do now. I just hope that I will learn the language in the near future, because I consider it highly important in further strengthening and finding yourself.
Once again, thank you for this support!

Best,
M.V.

Dear Marina,

You cause my tears with this story that I know very long time ago. I am very proud of you. You are very brave and smart women.

Best,
Tanja

Dear Tanja,

It makes me even more happy and satisfied when I get comments like this from close people. Because of all of you I`m constantly making new steps! You have been teaching me how to step forward into the future! Many hugs, and thank you for being an important part of my life!

Best,
M.V.

Dear Marina,

This is a beautiful story. I`m so proud that I know you and I hope that this story will open many topics and that your work will bring solutions. Keep going.

Kisses from Belgrade,
Tina

Dear Tina,

It`s always a pleasure to read such comments as yours. I don`t want to extend this gratitudes so much, I just wanted to depict the way I was going through.. because I know that many persons faced the similar situation. I don`t think that this story will change much, but at least it raised a voice on this particular issue. Thank you for supporting me through all these years. Many hugs.

Best,
M.V.

Dear Marina,

I have to say it's quite refreshing to see that there are young Roma out there that are so lucid and inquisitive about their identity such as yourself!
I think you really outlined the key-dilemmas in this really big question: what counts as Roma? Language, religion, descendancy...Tough indeed.
I wish you never loose the strengh you have and that it follows you always!

Add your voice