A racist incident occurred at my show and I don't know what to do about it. I hope you can tell me a way of dealing with it.

This fall I produced off-off Broadway my dramatic collage, Three Eco-Friendly Self-Propelled Clowns, in an attempt to make American audiences aware of the homophobia and racism that still exist in Romania, my place of birth. My intention was and still is to take the show back there to try to improve the situation.

Some of the text is based on actual words said by real Romanian people, and it was traumatic just translating their words. See, they talk about turning Gypsy people into soap, and I am partly Gypsy. Gypsy people are not hippies that have a romantic life style. They are Europe’s people of color and face situations similar to those that African American here faced before the sixties.

I didn’t know I was Gypsy until I was in my mid-twenties, when I was a student in American Studies and I came home to work on my genealogical tree for an exam. We were in the kitchen and my mom whispered our grandpa, the blacksmith, was a Gypsy, but we shouldn’t dream of saying anything to our father! Can you imagine a life like that? When I gave birth to my son, the first thing she asked was not if the baby was a boy or a girl, but if his skin was dark!
I came to America not to pursue a life of prosperity but to lead a free, authentic life, yes, to celebrate who I am and make sure my son is proud of his heritage and doesn’t face discrimination. I came here believing what JFK in his 1963 Address on Civil Rights said, that is “…every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated.”

Based on the facts I describe below, I fear it is not so.

1. Last week I had the director of the Romanian Cultural Center, a non-profit put together by anti-communist immigrants in the '70s, disrupted the show during an anti-racism/pro-Gypsy monologue. The gentleman heckled the actress and then when I asked him to keep his comments for after the show, he left in a huff, disparaging the show and saying to his companion, but loud enough for my crew to overhear it, “Who the fuck gives a shit about the Gypsies?!”

Earlier, when I told this same gentleman over the phone (he had called to make reservations as a result of my mailing out the show press release) that I am myself part Gypsy, he remarked that I for sure was a temperamental woman and he was eager to meet me. Then over coffee he asked me to read his palm. I didn't tell him to fuck off with his stereotypical, racist remarks because I was taken by surprise. It was the first time that I’d made it publicly known to Romanians that I am part Gypsy, and because I respected his anti-communist activities and we were looking for a sponsor to go with the show to Romania, I didn’t want to make waves. But it offended me.

2. In an attempt to reconnect with the local Romanian arts community I attended a Romanian production at la Mama Theater sponsored by the Romanian Cultural Institute, a state agency. The play, about a lesbian nun who was killed during an exorcism in a monastery in Romania in 2005, was based on a book of interviews, so we got a realistic depiction of Romanian day-by-day life and speech. That is, from beginning to end we heard homophobic, racist/anti-Gypsy, and anti-Semitic discourse going on in Romanian on stage and translated accurately in supra-titles. The anti-Semitic remarks, however, were not translated. The play’s racism was not addressed either in the Q&A session or in the playbill. The homophobia was slightly touched upon, but all that we really heard was how fantastic the director was. The intention of the creator was not clear: Was he attempting to portray Romanian reality in order to make us react against it, or he was unaware of its homophobia and racism? If he was going for reaction, then why didn't he translate the anti-Semitic remarks too?

Could it be that he is well aware that in America, in NYC, the Jewish community would have been highly offended and likely to react negatively to his enterprise, whereas he knows that as Edward Said remarked, “Gypsies are the only group about which anything could be said without challenge or demurral”?

It hurts me that such shows get applauded in NYC, today. I left a racist society, and here it is again in my face, in my hometown.
It is sickening what's going on in Europe. People, journalists, even the Foreign Minister say incredibly racist things and they go unchecked. Examples, “Gypsy people are monkeys, scumbags, sub-humans, thieves, and born criminals.” “Too bad Hitler didn't exterminate them.” “We should relocate the Gypsies in the Sahara Desert.” This was the Romanian Foreign Minister during his visit to Egypt commenting on Roma immigrants being expelled from Italy.
Also, as I was reading the supra-tiles I realized it is so weird, all nation names are written in English with capital letter. But Gypsy is always lower case… Basic respect denied.

I would like to do something about it, but I don't know how and what. I hoped there was a mechanism that concerned citizens could use, but wherever I called in NYC, they told me we have freedom of speech here and everybody can say whatever they want, so the only thing I can do is raise awareness thru the media.

I got in touch with the Roma writer of the pro-tolerance/Gypsy monologue and he said this situation is explosive and he’d raise hell in Romania. Well, I am torn about raising hell. I don’t want my incidents to create more conflict, but to make all parties involved that racism is unacceptable. Also, I asked him if it was safe for my parents and sister who are unprotected back home. He said I shouldn't worry and nothing will happen to them. Well, I do worry. Gypsy villages do get burnt down in Romania!

I hope you advise me on what to do, or connect me with some organizations that might take interest in the issue.

On my part, I’m writing letters to all people I’ve mentioned above, asking them to explain and rectify their positions and to be aware of the impact their racism has.

This experience was depressing. Whoever’s idea it was for me to come out of the closet publicly as a Gypsy should go to hell. Were it up to me, I wouldn't want to be a Gypsy anymore.

People are so busy with their Christmas shopping, they don't hear you. Gypsies? Who? What? I think it’s everybody’s issue, but it seems that American people have forgotten their own past, both with its horrors and victories. Again, as JFK said, “This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
Someone, can you help, please?
Happy holidays.

Ella Veres is a writer/performer/image maker living in NYC, hailing from Transylvania.