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Bridging the Gap Between Romani Moldovans and Immigrant Americans



CIANA had the distinct honor of welcoming to our office on September 29 a delegation of Roma community mediators from Moldova, in conjunction with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a division of the U.S. State Department.


The group consisted of a number of activists who connect fellow Roma Moldovans with social services to foster social integration and economic advancement. The Romani community lags in education, employment, and income, largely due to age-old myths and stereotypes about Romani people- their alleged thievery, backwards cultural practices, an unwillingness to adapt to the countries they settle in, among others.


But as the community mediators explained, these misconceptions are just that. While Roma are famous for their long history as nomads, they have settled in countries across Europe, including Moldova, since at least the 1800s. They speak the local language and have a strong sense of national identity. The challenge, they told us, is gaining acceptance from the Moldovan government and Moldovan society at large.

 

The Republic of Moldova is a small nation in Eastern Europe right between Romania and Ukraine. Having been part of various larger European states before, during, and after both World Wars, Moldova gained its independence in 1991 following the collapse of the USSR.


As a result of centuries of geopolitical conflict, divisions between the various national and ethnic groups within Moldova remain. Despite comprising just 0.4% of the total population, anti-Roma bias is particularly prevalent.


The Romani people have been a convenient scapegoat throughout history for whatever social ills were happening at a given time. Roma are often called "Gypsies," a term now generally accepted to be a slur. Their perceived inferiority has made them a target of institutionalized discrimination and even genocide; during World War II, Roma, along with Jews, were among the most targeted by the German Nazi government.


Generations of bigotry have left Roma communities still being seen as the "Other." We were surprised at how much the struggles, stereotypes, & marginalization that the Roma in Moldova face mirror the struggles of immigrants here in the US- the same struggles that CIANA was founded to resolve.


Immigrants have always been instrumental in building the United States for centuries past and in the present day. Yet they too are stereotyped as not wanting to adapt. Latinx immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are frequently castigated for not speaking English and are accused of draining resources from native-born taxpayers.


Since 9/11, Arab and Muslim Americans have experienced verbal harassment and violent hate crimes due to perceived self-segregation and disloyalty to the U.S. In reality, these bigoted views are what further marginalize communities into self-isolation and prevent them from seeking resources that will help them acclimate into a diverse, modern society.


For both CIANA and our visitors, integration is key for marginalized groups, but is distinct from assimilation. All cultures, whether Roma, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Latin American, deserve respect, even when they migrate from one country to another. They should not be made to give up their cultures in the name of adapting to a new environment.


In the case of Roma peoples, who originated nearly 2000 years ago in India, there is no one “home” that they can go back to. They are not new to Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, or the other countries where they live, just as immigrant communities are not new to the U.S.

 

Just as the struggles faced by Roma and immigrants in the US are similar despite the enormous cultural gaps, the ways we respond and the goals we set to serve them are similar as well.


One of the biggest challenges we share is recognition, which itself is twofold:

  1. We both lack large-scale acknowledgement of fighting for the dignity of core members of our communities.

  2. We both rely on financial support to keep doing this work, which may sometimes seem invisible, but is 100% necessary.


The struggles of marginalized people across the world are linked, even if they may not seem like it. As a small community organization, we're grateful to the IVLP for allowing CIANA to take part in true grassroots, international solidarity.



Learn more about Roma Community Mediators in Moldova here.


Learn more about the State Department IVLP here.

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