I am what many people call a “Gypsy.” I prefer the term “Roma.” There are more than 10 million of us across Europe. The vast majority of us live in Third World conditions – denied access to adequate housing, health care, and education.
I was born in a provincial town in Bulgaria in the late 1960’s, when, like the rest of Eastern Europe, the country was under Communist rule. The Party recognized no ethnic minorities – we were all, formally, equal. Indeed, we were so equal that the government gave many of us new, Bulgarian names. One day, when I was a teenager named Husni, my name became Ivan.
But we were not equal. Roma lived in segregated ghettos. We were second-class citizens.
One of my clearest early childhood memories is of my father telling my younger sister and me, “Education is the key to success.” He said, “If you want to be accepted as equals by Gadje [non-Roma], you must be better educated than they are. This is not easy. But if you succeed, this will change not only your life but also the lives of many of your people.”