‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you’ is an old saying, which we all know is not entirely true. One thing I do know: what you were never allowed to know can hurt quite a bit. And this is not just me. In fact, I am sure this is the exact feeling many people have, especially when they learn they have Romani (Travellers) in their blood. What I am trying to say here is that many are actually never told about their heritage; where the family came from, what work they performed, where they travelled, how they socialized, and so on.
Most of us are already aware of the shameful treatment various minorities have received from the state and people in general, since the general population was never told or taught to treat anyone, regardless of race, religion, etc. with the same respect as one would expect in return. This resulted in many families keeping quiet about their heritage, due to fear of harassment, or just plain shame. And the end result is the fact that many children never ever learned about their own cultural heritage.
I was one of those children who hardly knew anything about my relatives until I more or less forced my parents to start telling me about their own relatives. I always knew there was something there since it had been mentioned once in a while by other family members. But whenever I started to ask if we actually came from Romani stock, I always got this almost aggressive reply: “Rubbish, we do NOT talk about this!” So, when I got older, my questions became more persistent – and maybe more sophisticated – and little by little they started to tell me about my own hidden culture.
And now, well into middle age, I’d had enough and I decided that it was time we talked about this. This story needs to be told now, before everything is taken to the grave by the last relatives who sit on the information. So this time my approach was a lot more assertive, and I sometimes – between the lines – basically accused my older relatives of stealing my own history and I’d had it with that!
The more I have learned, the more anger I’ve felt. Not self-pity, no sorrow or bitterness. Just pure anger. Anger at my own family, who kept all this from me. Anger at the state and lawmakers implementing the laws against minorities.
Not to mention the Church, which represented the very vanguard of forces trying to get rid of an entire culture. So when someone ignorant is talking about reconciliation, I tell them to stop. I do not want to hear this word. This is a word made up by people who never really experienced hardship.
I guess there is always a silver lining, and for me it is the fact that I now know about it, and because of that I can learn more about myself and my family. I have been able to connect with a lot of distant relatives because of this, and I feel both proud and a bit exotic, actually.
All the best from a proud Traveller.