March 8, 2002

Hungarian "Rom" Visit San Diego

by: D. L. Muñoz

The first ROM (Gypsies) arrived in the American continent in 1498 accompanying Christopher Columbus on his third voyage to the New world. It would not be until 1880, that the first major wave of "Roma" sailed to the United States fleeing from persecution in Serbia, Russia, and Austria-Hungry. They had come so far only to be excluded from the right to immigrate by the United States immigration policy in 1885. It seemed that no one wanted the Rom.

Where did this ethnic group come from?

These and many other questions came into my mind recently after Allison Baity, Operations Director for the International Visitors Council of San Diego, called the offices of La Prensa San Diego. "There is a contingent of visitors sponsored by the U.S. Department of State visiting San Diego. They have requested to meet with La Prensa San Diego. Would I meet with them in the Sun Dollar conference room, at the Best Western Inn by the Sea, in La Jolla?"

Caught by surprise, I couldn't fathom what their interests could be in meeting with a San Diego Hispanic newspaper. Allison Baity informed me "they want to talk about the role of La Prensa San Diego in the education and political empowerment of the community within the context of the general society."

It was a bright sunny, Chamber of Commerce day when I pulled up to the Best Western Inn by the Sea where I was met by the U.S. Department of State Interpreters: Laszlo Szimonisz, Anna Koranyi, and Rita De Fiore. This was of some comfort to me as I didn't know one word of their language and the visiting group didn't speak a word of Spanish or English! I was greeted with smiles and handshakes by Ms. Maria Bogdan Public Educator & Researcher, Hungarian Institute for Culture, Mr. Jeso Gyongyosi, Director, Roma Community Center in Hoss-zupali, Ms. Erzsebet Budai, Member of the local Government of Sajoszentpeter, Mr. Jozsef Gyorgy NAGY, Vice-Director, Roma Community Center in Nagykanizsa, Ms. Szilvia LABODANE LAKA-TOS, President, Khetanipe Roma Community House, Mr. Karoly LAKATOS, Director Roma Community Center in Nagykanizsa, and Mr. Marton VARNAI, Director, Community Center Pecs.

You might have noticed the word Roma preceding their place of employment. When I first received the identity sheets in February and noticed the word Roma it flashed in my mind that I had read an article in National Geographic six months go that had an article on the Roma. They were the GYPSIES of Europe! The ROMA are an ethnic minority whose origins began on the Indian subcontinent over 1,000 years ago! They arrived in Europe in the last quarter of the 13th Century. Many thought they were from Turkey, Nubia, or Egypt. They were called, in those day's `Gyptians', the word that "Gypsy" comes from. They spoke Romani language, which is of Indo-Aryan origin and has many spoken dialects. The root language of Romani, however, is ancient Punjabi (India).

The questions raised by our Roma visitors soon made it clear why they were interested in the Mexican experience in America. The Roma has a long history of continuous persecution and struggle to gain social and human rights. Since they left India 1000 years before Christ and migrated into Europe they have been outlawed, enslaved, hunted, tortured and murdered. There was no respite from their long struggle to gain respect, decency, & justice. Their need: to be accepted as members of the human community. Even in America, there was no room for the Roma. In 1856 they were allowed to migrate to America. In 1885, they were excluded by United States Immigration policy. Many were returned to Europe. During World War II up to 1,500,000 Roma were killed, in the Holocaust launched by Nazi Germany.

The Roma asked "How did La Prensa San Diego speak for the Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Mexican Americans without fear of retribution?". Now I knew why they wanted to talk with me. Somehow they had knowledge of our struggles to gain the same Civil and Constitutional rights that were taken for granted by the Anglo-Europeans in the U.S.A. They wanted to know if I had complete freedom to speak out in our editorial pages whatever we felt over the oppression of our people. I sensed their deep desire to find answers for the problems that they have experienced for centuries.

"We, the Mexican Americans have managed to resolve some of our problems by conducting a relentless campaign to educate the American populace of the inherent contradiction between what their founding documents stated and what the actual practices were in our country. We fought for our rights in the courts, in the political arena, in our schools, in the media, in our churches. We involved sizeable communities & organizations, not Hispanic, in our struggle. The 26-year struggle that La Prensa San Diego has gone through, to keep our voice out there by every means possible, was not without pain and suffering. It was necessary and important that we continued to remind the Anglo-American citizen of the racism, discrimination, and denial of our basic freedoms under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Today it is the Mexican American, Black Americans, Asians, Indigenous peoples that are oppressed. Tomorrow, it could be the Irish, the Finnish people, the Germans etc. Subtlety, we begin to educate White America to realize that what was at stake here was the future of our entire county. We were determined to not let America flinch from its responsibilities under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

"America is a country that has no particular race of people who dominate the country . . . like the Japanese, Chinese, Germans French, etc. We are a nation that is destined to be diverse i.e. multi-racial. We are bound together by an idea, a concept, a set of principals that has brought us together under our Constitution and Bill of Rights! Without these first principles, we are nothing."

The Roma throughout history have been a part of many nations. It has been their fortune to bring their blood and rejuvenate many nations. "You must not fear to gain a voice wherever you are and fear not to speak out. You have earned the right. We speak out but we do not advocate for the overthrow of our country. We are the conscious of our nation whether they like it not. And the Roma can play that role in the entire world."

"In our country, we recognize that we are not a perfect nation. We are still a work in progress. But, we have the hope that some day we can all live in peace and harmony. We hope our example will bring hope to the peoples of the world like the ROMA!"

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