AGRUSTIC SOMNACUNI || ROMANY || CRADLE || LET US PRAISE THE ROM || CHUPPA || MEDIATHECA 'FIORETTA MAZZEI' ||  'ENGLISH' CEMETERY || AUREO ANELLO || Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu/Julia Bolton Holloway © 2012

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AN APPEAL TO ITALY'S CONSCIENCE



Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,

   who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their rights,
that widows may be your spoil,
   and that you make the orphans your prey!
Isaiah 10.1-2


We are in the grips of control by 'shock'. For which see Naomi Klein: http://books.guardian.co.uk/video/2007/sep/07/naomiklein.

We are returning to the partnered tactics of Hitler and Mussolini. The use of a scapegoat.

I speak for the Human - and the European - Rights of the Roma. And in particular for the European Rights of the Roma from Romania.

The Roma from Romania are Christian, Romanian Orthodox. They were the slaves of the monasteries from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. They reached Europe from India centuries ago. Their language is Indo-European.

For seven years (2001-2008), I have worked with families of Romanian Roma who attend the Mass for the Poor established by Giorgio La Pira, the saintly Mayor of Florence, and continued by his saintly friend Fioretta Mazzei in the Badia of Florence. I visited these families to whom I listened and whom I have come to know and love in Romania at the end of July 2008. I met there also with Gruia Bumbu, President, and his Roma associates, of the Romanian Government's National Agency for the Roma in Bucharest. They spoke of the need for housing, education, medical care for their people. All of these needs can be met themselves by the Roma themselves - if they can be allowed legally to work here in Italy, there in Romania. To be allowed legally to work they must legally be allowed an address. Something that seems so simple. But which we found to be almost impossible the prejudice and discrimination against them being so very intense.

I believe our fear of the Roma, and especially of those of Romania, is because we have not understood their culture. And that we are afraid that their poverty might be our own future.



The Roma are matriarchal, based on the family. They have no country, no army. Their flag, modeled on India's, is of the blue sky, the green land, and the red wagon wheel, the Wheel of Life. Their criminality is the same as for other groups, but they are at the margins of society, their children starving. They are not allowed an official address. A baracca they build themselves
from scrap no one else wants and which costs nothing is bulldozed over and over again. It does not count as an official address. Without an official address they are not allowed to work. Without work, though they are European Citizens, they are considered criminal. To survive, they can only beg. Or worse, steal.


A five room baracca built by a Romanian Roma family of seven persons that was then bulldozed three times by the Italian police. It was constructed from materials no one else wanted, on land that was not being used. Both these sisters, when clearly pregnant were threatened by the police for living here and both consequently gave birth prematurely. In Romania this family sleeps twelve, children and adults together, in one room next to a horse's stall.

The Romanian Roma leave their children with their grandparents while trying to seek work in Italy. From which they are blocked and forced into the undesired begging. But I have found that the women tell of what they most need, roofs over their houses that are not leaking letting in the snow and rain, education for their children, medical care, and that they then organize their families into work groups, men and women together, their sons and their daughters, their husbands, their in-laws, friends and acquaintances. And that they work together admirably as families. Our laws do not allow this. We create their poverty.

When we have visited Muslim Roma families in Poderaccio we observed the same cleanliness, the same courtesy that we find with the Roma from Romania. Outside there is rubbish. But, inside, the houses are spotless and beautiful. Often we have seen the only piece of furniture is the ancestral wooden rocking cradle, with colourful carpets and hangings, the family sleeping and sitting on the floor, after taking their shoes off on entering. The carpets are constantly washed.

We have taught parents who cannot read or write to write their names to get their baby back from the hospital where it was born, instead of being placed for adoption by an Italian family. (I quoted in this case to the judge Roman Polanski's statement that it was worse to be an orphan than to be poor). They don't steal our babies. We may be stealing theirs. I fear the latest proposals in Italy concerning Roma children, first being fingerprinted, then taken from their parents as Italian Citizens and educated, will be akin to Australia's and Canada's 'Lost Generations'. I sometimes give these families alphabet and number cards:






On one side:

A B C D E F G

H I J K L M

N O P Q R S T

U V W X Y Z

On the other:

1 . 6 ......
2 .. 7 .......
3 ... 8 ........
4 .... 9 .........
5 ..... 10 ..........


Florence had been a most beautiful city. I said to the Mayor's office that these are what now make Florence ugly: the selling of globalized junk to the tourists, instead of Florentine handcrafts; the American students, particularly sloppy drunk women students, at night rowdily breaking glass bottles in the street; the graffiti painted by young Florentines on the buildings around the Liceo Classico Michelangelo; the Roma who beg. Of these, only the last play snatches of music or show patches of beauty with their colourful skirts. If they could work they would.
They could paint over the graffiti, if they were paid, or sell postcards of Florence's great art, if they were allowed, instead of begging. They could contribute to Florence and, if allowed to work legally upon being allowed a legal address, pay their taxes to Italy.

The Romanian Roma have saved the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence. First by rebuilding the dry walls that had collapsed in ruins in the rains of 1966. They reconstructed these walls expertly, the women holding their babies sitting at the iron railing, telling their husbands and brothers where to place the stones, the men first cleaning out the earth, then throwing and catching the stones and putting them in place, in two hours building many metres of wall expertly as well as preparing for us a banquet at which they played their music. That was seven years ago and I next was told it was illegal for them to work to finish the job and had to send them away. In return for it though I bought that family a house in Romania. Since their work no tomb has slid downhill.

Then, last year, a young Roma woman organized her mother, her brothers, her sister, her sister-in-law into restoring the garden the Cemetery had once had. This family lived in a baracca outside Florentine city limits that they built themselves out of scrap materials no one else wanted. Everything in the Cemetery had been put to weed killer for many years and it was grey and ugly and dead. We forbade the weed-killer. They weeded, planted bulbs, separated irisis and the Cemetery became again the dream landscape it had been.


The 'English' Cemetery's apprentice gardeners, two sisters and a sister-in-law


Seeing Karen Graffeo's photograph exhibition, 'Now Let Us Praise the Roma', in the Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei'. Their marbled paper.


Posing as artists' models. For which they insist on being fully dressed and chaperoned.


With Jill Hammer's finished drawing

 
Building book shelves for the Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei' and a cradle for their brother's baby.

This year Vandana returned with her husband, asking that he work in the Cemetery. They are both 23. She became pregnant with their third child. They were living in the baracca they had re-built in an open field outside the city limits of Florence as the police had bulldozed the earlier one. They had already bought land in Romania on which they hope to build their house. They came every day at 8:00 a.m., even on May 1st when they walked for four hours to be here on time and returned to their baracca on my bicycle, there being no bus service that holiday. Later, Vandana was taken by the Carabinieri in their car and threatened with expulsion if she did not leave their baracca. That night she lost her waters and Daniel had to call the ambulance. Their baby Gabriela was born after a week, premature by two months, weighing 1 kilo 200 grammes. We took them in under our roof, denouncing them to the police as living with us as required by Italian law. With that legal address (they already had their 'codice fiscale' numbers) we were able to write a work contract for Daniel and pay his contributions to the state. Daniel in these two months, waking at dawn each day, conserved the iron, brass and copper of 87 tombs in the English Cemetery. The difference is tremendous and appreciated by all, by experts in restoration, by international visitors, by our neighbours. I hired Daniel as my domestic, but he worked as a volunteer member of our Aureo Anello Association through the writing, together with Vandana, of a book he also illustrated, a vocabulary in four languages, Romany, Romanian, Italian and English: http://www.umilta.net/Romany.html, and in return we donated to them the funds for them to build their house on their land in Romania. In Romania, if the Roma have a registered decent house and a diploma they can legally work, not otherwise.

Here are some pages from the book they wrote and illustrated, and which we have also recorded:

Familia, Familie, Famiglia, Family


Gajo                                         Lomni                       C
āzai         Phral
Bārbat                                      Femeie                       Copil         Frate
Uomo                                       Donna                       Bambino    Fratello
Man                                         Woman                      Boy            Brother

Baba                                         Dai                            Ciai           Phen
Tată                                          Mam
ă                        Fată           Soră
Padre                                        Madre                       Bambina   Sorella
Father                                       Mother                      Girl           Sister


Instrumentuea, Instrumente, Utensili, Tools

Sui                                    
Cichci                      Cat   
Ac                                      Ciocan                     Foarfecă
Ago                                    Martello                  Forbice
Needle                               Hammer                  Scissors


     Sapa                     
Cosoi                          Carfi             Patentos     Ferestreos
     Sapǎ                      
Seceră                         Cui               Patent         Ferestreu
     Zappa                    Falce                            Chiodo         Pinza          Sega
     Hoe                        Sickle                          Nail              Pliers          Saw
           
                                       

  
Șpaclos                       Galeata                      Furcoi                       Cazmaua
Șpaclu                        Gāleatā                      Furcā                         Cazma
Cazzuola                    Secchio                      Forcone                     Vanga
Trowel
                        Bucket                       Fork                           Spade 

Costruzioni, Constructions                                        
 
                       

Cangheri                                                       Cher
Biserică                                                        
Casǎ
Chiesa                                                           Casa
Church                                                          House

Per edificare una casa/ For building a house:
Acoperişos
Acoperiş
Tetto
Roof

Sanzi
Scandură
Trave
Plank                 

Tiglá
Ţiglă
Tegola
Tile

Carfi
Cui
Chiodo
Nail
Fereastra
Fereastră

Finestra
Window

Grinda
Grindă
Asse
Rafter

Bolţari
Bolţar
Blocco
Block made from
earth and cement

Cimentos
Ciment
Cemento
Cement


Both Romanian Roma families who stayed under our roof were the cleanest house guests we have ever had, conscientious, courteous, with dignity, and grateful. They observe strict ancestral hygienic precepts (which go back beyond their arrival in Europe in the Middle Ages, for they are from north India and Aryan, their Romany language Indo-European), seeing us as unclean. In seven years nothing has ever been stolen from us by them. We give them and other Roma families used clothing and share meals. We invite them to our library. We find them eminently educable. For instance, they love Dante being read aloud with Botticelli's illustrations to the Commedia. We build wooden rocking cradles together: http://www.umilta.net/cradle.html.



Daniel and Vandana building the cradle for their baby Gabriela

We find it is crucial in dealings with the Roma to centre on the women, on the family, remembering they are a matriarchy. At the same time taking away from the men that despair that commonly drives oppressed males in minorities to selfish anodynes like cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, cars (Native Americans, Blacks, Aborigine, Irish, etc.). We stress economies like breast-feeding, cloth diapers, bicycles and home schooling. The Roma want to work. But are forbidden by law to have work unless they have a legal address and sufficient literacy. The Roma marry very young in arranged marriages and are faithful to their spouses. That faithfulness is enforced by internal tribunals among their people. I have seen excellent, loving marriages among them and the joint caring for their babies who never cry, being always held and nursed, rocked in their cradles and swaddled, therefore beginning their lives with a sense of great security and of being loved. Our first Roma mother's ninna nana, her lullaby to her baby, was 'Alleluia'. I recorded it and it was played during the RAI 1 Easter Sunday 2008 broadcast on hermits as background to the Mass for the Poor at the Florentine Badia this mother attended. Our own children no longer receive that child-rearing. We can learn from them and they can teach us.

In the midst of Daniel's work in our 'English' Cemetery I visited the Roma families that we know in Florence in Romania. I discovered that Vandana and Daniel when in Romania sleep with other members of their family in one small room, twelve people all told, children and grown ups together next to a stall with a horse in it. This is why this couple works so hard here to build their own house there for their three daughters. Another family is headed by a widow with her four children, one adopted, their three spouses, and her four grandchildren, their house having a leaking roof with holes in it. We are helping them repair their roof and the adopted eighteen-year-old son is now studying in a six-month programme for his diploma. He had been first in his class the one year he had in school, his family being too poor to continue his schooling. The family that restored the dry walls seven years ago is now prosperous from having earned the house to replace their baracca where twelve had been sleeping. Schooling is said by the government to be free but the parents are billed for heating, books, and must buy clothing which they cannot afford. Medical care must be paid for after 18 by those who do not have work, particularly the grandparents caring for grandchildren. Relatives visiting hospitals must pay to enter. Water even from a tap a distance down the road is billed highly, failure to pay carrying a prison sentence. The families go hungry and lack clothing. I saw our family cook in a pot on an open fire outdoors their lunch of just potatoes. We have found that when we pay money in Florence it is immediately sent back to Romania to feed the children. I found in these families that despite their great poverty they generously adopt orphaned Roma babies or unwanted Romanian babies.

My first Romanian Roma mother, who is illiterate, one day told the story of 'Cristos who was so poor he was born in a baracca with the animals, the horses. And the people were hungry so he gave them bread and fish and potatoes. And then the envious killed him'. I came to understood her telling more truly when I saw the animals' rooms beside the humans' room and the cooking of a pot of potatoes over an open fire outdoors in Romania. Families cannot afford to send their daughters to school when everyone is hungry. They can barely send the boys and for a few years only, not to the level of the diploma which is needed for work.

We suggest to our families that they work together in solidarity, helping each other rebuild their roofs. When they help each other in Romania we are more willing to reward them with seasonal work in Florence. We suggest these families come together as a building and learning association, the families together thus strengthening each family within it. The name in Romany for the Association, 'Agrustic Somnacuni', is the same as ours, 'Aureo Anello', 'Golden Ring'. This is a part of our project to be submitted to the European Union called 'From Graves to Cradles'.


Daniel, Giovanna, Gabriela, Vandana in the Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei'

The answer to the problem of the poverty of the Roma is to permit them a legal address so they can have legal work. Italian Roma, Romanian Roma all should have this right to exist. The Romanian Roma only ask for seasonal work here in Italy, for labour-intensive work Italians no longer want. They can rebuild dry walls, they can gather the olives, the grapes. They can garden expertly.
They can restore cemeteries. They are fine carpenters, even the women. They sew and embroider, even the men. A project the Muslim Roma have carried out for a friend is to embroider the ancestors' names of Jewish families in gold thread onto the white silk of two chuppas.  With giving Roma honest legal work that we need done the poverty, the begging, the stealing, and our fear of them would be alleviated. The Romanian Roma want to return to their own most beautiful country. Its agriculture is splendid, the land fertile, no petroleum fertilizers or pesticides being used. They are skilled workers in metal and agriculture, and their poverty has them be resourceful and not wasteful. They are the florists in the streets of Bucharest. They make the farm tools of wood and iron used by the Romanians. They work for Romanians and then are not paid. They are intelligent and love beauty. Victims of the Holocaust, they received no reparations. The least we can do in reparation is allow them and their families to survive. They are not nomads. They are not dirty. They are no more criminal than are others. They are under greater provocation to resort to illegal behaviour because they are illegally treated as being outside the laws of the land. They have been in Europe for centuries. They are most truly Citizens of the World, Citizens of Europe, gifted in our many languages as well as their own - which is Indo-European. They are not rubbish. They are a great treasure we are rubbishing.


See http://www.umilta.net/cradlelibrary.html
       http://www.umilta.net/cradle.html
       http://www.umilta.net/karengraffeo.html
       http://www.umilta.net/chuppa.html

Versione in italiano

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Press Release follows.

PRESS RELEASE:
AN APPEAL TO ITALY'S CONSCIENCE
(http://www.umilta.net/scapegoat.html, Julia Bolton Holloway, P.le Donatello, 38, 50132 Florence, Italy)
   
We are in the grips of undemocratic control by the scapegoating of the most vulnerable. We are returning to the partnered tactics of Hitler and Mussolini. I speak for the Human - and the European - Rights of the Roma. In particular for the European Rights of the Roma from Romania. The Roma from Romania are Christian, Romanian Orthodox. They were the slaves of the monasteries from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. I believe our fear of the Roma, and especially of those of Romania, is because we have not understood their culture. And that we are afraid that their great poverty might be our own future. Poverty is not, in itself, a crime.
     For seven years, 2001-2008, I listened to families of Romanian Roma who attend the Mass for the Poor established by Giorgio La Pira, the Mayor of Florence, and continued by Fioretta Mazzei in the Badia of Florence. I visited these families in Romania at the end of July 2008. I met there also with Gruia Bumbu, President, and his Roma associates, of the Romanian Government's National Agency for the Roma in Bucharest. They all spoke to me of the need for housing, education, medical care for their people. All of these needs can be met by the Roma themselves - if they can be allowed legally to work here in Italy, there in Romania.
    I listened first to the women, finding that the Roma are matriarchal, based on the family. They have no country, no army. They are at the margins of society, their children starving. Yet, despite their poverty, they generously adopt other orphaned Rom babies, or unwanted Romanian babies. The women wear graceful, colourful skirts, not trousers.Their babies can be taken from them and given in adoption to Italians when born here if they cannot show they have a cradle, bus tickets to return, travelling documents for the child, and decent housing, none of which they can afford. They do not steal our babies, we may be stealing theirs. They leave their children with grandparents in Romania. Many Roma are illiterate as their families cannot afford the extra expenses of their clothes, books and heating expenses for Romanian schools. They are not allowed an official address. A baracca they build in an open field outside the city limits of Florence from scrap no one else wants and which costs nothing is bulldozed over and over again. It does not count as an official address. Without an official address they are not allowed to work. Without work, though they are European Citizens, they are considered criminal.
    Italian Roma, Romanian Roma all should have the right to exist. The answer to the problem of the poverty of the Romanian Roma is to permit them a legal address so they can have legal work. If they could have access to a dormitory in an abandoned factory on a bus line that they could use as an legal address and a roof this solution would suffice to lift their families out of poverty. They only ask for seasonal work here in Italy, for labour-intensive work Italians no longer want. Our experience of them is that they work best as families, the women organizing the work group. They can rebuild dry walls, they can gather olives, grapes. They can garden expertly. They can work with iron and stone. They are fine carpenters, even the women. They sew and embroider, even the men. With giving them work that we need done the poverty, the begging, the stealing, and our fear of them would be alleviated. The Romanian Roma want to return to their own most beautiful country. Its agriculture is splendid, the land fertile, no petroleum fertilizers or pesticides being used. They are skilled and their poverty has them be resourceful and not wasteful. They are the florists in the streets of Bucharest. They make the farm tools of wood and iron used by the Romanians. They work for Romanians and often are not paid because of Romania's poverty. Victims of the Holocaust, they received no reparations. The least we can do in reparation is allow them and their families to survive. They are not nomads. They are not dirty. Inside their homes are spotless. They are intelligent and love beauty. They marry young and are faithful to their spouses. Their babies are raised lovingly and almost never cry. It is this child-raising, despite their poverty, that gives the Roma the inner strength to survive. However, their life expectancy, because of that great poverty, is shockingly low. They are no more criminal than are others. They are under greater provocation to resort to illegal behaviour because they are illegally treated as being outside the laws of the land. Instead, they are most truly Citizens of Europe, gifted in its many languages as well as their own. They are not rubbish. They are a great treasure we are rubbishing.


AGRUSTIC SOMNACUNI || ROMANY || CRADLE || LET US PRAISE THE ROM || CHUPPA || MEDIATHECA 'FIORETTA MAZZEI' ||  'ENGLISH' CEMETERY || AUREO ANELLO || Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu/Julia Bolton Holloway © 2012