They’re Just People…
Today was my oldest daughter’s birthday, so we spent a good part of the day at one of the parks here in Bucharest, eating lunch, getting ice cream pops, and playing. While at one of the playground areas, I was pushing one of my girls in a swing when a high school-aged boy sits in the swing next to hers with a couple of his buddies by him. He must have heard us speaking in English, so he asks, in fairly good English, where we are from. (Always every new person’s question to us.) When I tell him that we’re from America, expecting to hear the usual “Wow, America,” I am not disappointed. (After you get asked that question and receive that same response so many times, you come to anticipate it, not in pride, but just in a this-is-how-nearly-every-conversation-I-have-with-a-new-person-goes kind of way.)
Then all three boys started saying with this dreamy, far-off kind of voice, “America. It’s so beautiful there.” (I doubt they had actually ever been there. I mean, have you driven hours upon hours through cornfields of Indiana?)
Always amazed at how people put America on this pedestal of being the ultimate paradise while being totally ignorant to the multitude of problems there–there are problems everywhere, and America is not excluded–I reminded them of beautiful places in their own country, how America has several big, ugly cities just like Romania has Bucharest (I’ve grown to like Bucharest, but it does have a sort of depressing architectural theme to it.), and how America is not perfect and has its own problems, that Romania is not unique in that.
Dumbfounded, they asked, “Like what?” Clearly, they don’t watch CNN International and BBC News like I do to keep up with what’s happening back in the States. When I mentioned that where we used to live in Milwaukee, we could hear gun shots when our windows were open, that there were lots of problems with drugs and gangs in that city, they were shocked!
But then they went back to bewailing how terrible Romania is, especially Bucharest with all the “gypsies” here. Every time I hear someone rant or complain about the gypsies, it strikes a nerve in me and hurts. I think of our gypsy church near our house and of how generous and loving those women are to me and my children, how they give things to our kids when they themselves have so little, how they really want to live good lives. They’re like family to me; well, really, we are all in the family of God together, and those women are my sisters in faith. So, hearing someone throw out brash comments like that, generalizing and stereotyping a whole group of people based on racism and prejudices, is really bothersome.
Before I go further, I will note that the main speaker of the group of boys held a two liter plastic bottle of cheap beer in his hand and was obviously not sober. When I commented once on how good his English was, he said only when he’s drunk can he speak it well. I tried not to press the conversation too much, because of the awkwardness of the situation: a mother of four at the park with her kids, talking to an intoxicated high school guy is just a little weird, but I digress.
Later on, the boys asked about there being many black people in America, only they used the “n” word! (Ok, I must interject a side note here. These kids obviously didn’t use the “n” word in a derogatory sense, and it’s not the first time one of us has heard a Romanian refer to a black person with that word, and it’s never been used in a mean way. We always correct them and urge them never to use that term, for it is extremely derogatory in American culture.) They went on about how they have no problem with black people and wonder why others do, because, “They’re just people, like you and me.”
“Yeah, kind of like the gypsies. They’re just people, too,” I said. They tried to make excuses but failed, and I had to leave to go rescue my toddler boy from some high up place he’d climbed up to. But when they left later, the main guy admitted, among other things, that he is, in fact, half-gypsy. Sometimes, I really have no explanation.
But, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Naomi. “Why do some people not like the Gypsies? They’re just people with different color skin. That’s stupid to not like someone because of that.”