Maria Dumitru Ruiz about the initiative to start a Romani Gender Expert Collective
My name is Maria, and I am from Romania. I am a researcher and an activist in the Roma rights field. I am currently doing my PhD in Gender and Roma slavery at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society.
I think I have always known that my family and I are Roma. Our location (segregated neighbourhood), living conditions, and even our appearance (darker skin) looked different to me as a child compared to others. However, I became aware of my ethnicity when I started volunteering at the age of 13 at a local organization working with Roma children. By engaging in many activities aimed at providing schooling opportunities for children and young people, and by attending courses/trainings on discrimination and social inclusion, I understood this better. As a result of this and seeing with my eyes that I could contribute and support other children, has positively impacted me to believe in myself and prevent experiencing internalized racism as, unfortunately, many young Roma experience.
I know it's tough to feel proud sometimes of being Roma when you receive stigma and rejection from most of society. Racism works so well that it makes us feel ashamed of who we are. But it's not our fault that people are racist; it's the gadje's problem. As a small piece of advice, be comfortable with who you are, regardless of your ethnic identity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc., because it will help you to succeed in life. We need to re/build our confidence to believe that we can achieve anything we propose. Our community has endured centuries of historical injustices, such as slavery and the holocaust, and today the reality is still difficult and full of injustices, but even so, we still survive today. We still get up every morning to continue our lives and strive for better. That being said, we need to reclaim who we are, and start feeling proud of being Roma today.