“This Is Who I Am Now”: Alina Serban on Roma Art and Identity
By Rachel Hart
Alina Serban is a young actress and playwright living in Romania. She recently shared her thoughts on art, identity, and attending the first Barvalipe Roma Pride Camp, which took place in Budapest, Hungary, last August.
Tell me about your one-woman play I, Undersigned Alina Serban, Declare. What was your inspiration for it?
The play is autobiographical. It is based on my personal story and explores my identity as a Roma woman. The play features monologues written by me and parts from my personal journals. I always knew myself as a person who makes light of hard moments, so I tried to give a positive tone to my ups and downs in life and show how they made me who I am.
I wanted the play to express my viewpoint on what is happening in society, to be truthful to myself and to allow myself to be vulnerable in front of people, saying "This is who I was, look where I'm from, and who I am now." I worked on this play with director David Schwartz, dramaturg Alice Monica Marinescu, composer and performer Catalin Rulea, and scenographer Adrian Cristea.
Your play focuses on your identity as a Roma woman. As an artist, why do you think identity is an important issue to explore?
My play focuses on many layers, but the most important layer is "how I must be so I'll fit in"—first as an underprivileged girl, and then also trying to fit in as a Roma girl. I think it is very important for an artist to have the ability to create a connection with your audience, and in order to do that one must create, speak, and explore topics that you really believe in. This is what I tried with my play. I hope to be able to explore these issues further and continue to be able to create things that are representative of me.
During Barvalipe, participants visited Auschwitz. You expressed a desire to someday take your own children there. What did the trip to Auschwitz mean to you, and do you think the experience of Roma during the Holocaust is an important part of your own identity?
I will try my best to take my children to Auschwitz, to teach them Romanes, and to tell them about our history. For me personally going to Auschwitz was a difficult step that I had to do in order to be more truthful to myself. I needed to understand more about the suffering and the history of my people. Of course, even though I had the chance to see Auschwitz with my own eyes I still can't believe that the atrocities committed there really happened.
What is so infuriating is just how little we know—even today—about the Roma suffering there. I left Auschwitz with a very bitter taste in my mouth. I had nightmares afterwards. And it was only when I arrived back home in Romania that I was able to really speak about my experience. Now I believe I can defend my people and express our sorrow with more depth then before.
Barvalipe focused on cultivating Roma pride. Do you think the experience will influence your art and how?
I came to the Barvalipe camp looking for the feeling of belonging. I left there with my head held higher. Meeting so many Roma models gave me the confidence to continue what I started and use art to express who I am.
Until August 2015, Rachel Hart was the associate director in the Office of Communications at the Open Society Foundations.