6 days + 35 Roma and non-Roma participants + 13 different countries represented = a very unique conference experience!
Last week, I was able to attend a conference with a name combining Romani and English language, “Putren Le Jakha! Open Your Eyes!”. The week was focused around antigypsyism. Like any other “anti” or “-ism” word, you might be able to come up with an idea of what this term means. (Maybe something along the lines of “discrimination against gypsies”?). If only definitions for such deep words could be wrapped up in three words…
From my experience last week, I can tell you that there is so much to this word, and there’s no way to give it a complete definition. First of all, a YAGM friend and I were slightly confused why the word “gypsy” was even in the word in the first place. Most often than not, “gypsy” is used as a slang term for Roma people and has a negative connotation. Taylor asked about this at a round table discussion, and this is what I understood through the answer given:
1. The word “gypsy” can be referring to not just Roma people, but also “travelers”.
2. Roma people may use the term “gypsy” to describe themselves and embrace the word, others may not.
3. It’s IMPORTANT to ask individuals if the term is offensive to them.
4. Stick with the word “Roma”, unless told otherwise.
5. Why it is included in the term “antigypsyism” is because the “anti” part of the word focuses on abandoning any negativity towards the population being discussed.
During the conference, we discussed how each of us see or have experienced antigypsyism. We spoke about national strategies for the inclusion of Roma people in European society, the positive effects and the plenty of negative ones. Different organizations planned to collaborate on the national level, and youth empowerment was a highlight in several conversations.
By Day One, I knew I was experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was bonding with people from Kosovo, Italy, Bulgaria, Albania, and so many more countries. Not only was it amazing talking to so many new, diverse people, but I got to see multiple perspectives of Europe through so many different lenses. I was inspired to see so many young people (ages 20-35) representing all different NGOs or organizations for the same cause- to help Europe see all of the people in the continent as humans.
As the “good YAGM” that I am, I went into this past week with the thought of being a sponge. I was going to try to soak in as much information as I could (because frankly, what would an American be doing at a conference about such a huge issue in Europe that even some Europeans don’t understand or know about?). Thankfully, this beautifully knitted community accepted my American-ness with open arms, love, and support. Thanks to seeing the passion in the eyes of the participants in this conference, I left on Saturday rejuvenated and reminded of the main reason why YAGM has placements in Central Europe- to accompany and empower the Roma people here.
(P.S. Experiencing Budapest, it’s “night life”, and disco parties with these people are memories that will last a lifetime!)