Report on the X-Chavalem youth exchange
by Irina Spataru
Have you ever heard about Roma Superheroes? No? Well, I’m sure you‘ve heard about the Marvel characters Magneto or Nightcrawler. If you did, then you already know some Roma Heroes. Besides the fictional heroes there are also real life superheroes you should know about. And you will.
X-Chavalem - A holistic experience
For 10 Days, around 40 Roma and non-Roma from all over Europe came together to improve their knowledge about Roma History by analysing the Roma in Pop Culture, more exactly through the comic characters of Marvel’s X-Men. How come that only a few people know about the Roma identity of this famous characters? The answer to this question is related to the common knowledge of the society about Roma and Roma history. Unfortunately, many people have never heard about the Roma Holocaust during WW II or about the 16 May, the Romani Resistance Day. If you look at the background stories of the Roma Superheroes, you can find important historical facts about the Roma.
In the first day of the exchange we had to choose our Super-Hero-Alter-Egos and from that point we didn’t call each other by our given names for the whole week, but we had names like Mystique, Mr. Fantastic or Catwoman. And this is also how we kept the people in our memory.
Wonder Woman gave us an introduction to general pop-culture before we started looking for Roma in pop culture. And we found some Roma musicians, Roma painters, Roma writers and Roma superheroes.
Why do we need Roma Superheroes?
Superheroes are in general needed when there is a considerable threat posed by evil and bad characters. Their duty is to protect and to save the weak and the innocent. It is not always necessary to have a physical fight; the history showed us, that sometimes we need brave and strong people who fight for the fundamental rights of oppressed people. We learned about the civil rights movement and about heroes like Malcolm X or Rosa Parks and many more. Many activists became heroes because they did something that nobody had the courage before and resisted the oppression and injustice.
What about the Romani Resistance?
In the Roma Holocaust history we learned about the 500.000 victims, which is sad but important to know, but we often forget also to mention the women, men and children who successfully resisted the SS men who wanted to exterminate the entire “Zigeunerlager” in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the 16 May 1945.
The 16 May is a really important day of the Roma history and really important for the Roma activism. Because the history showed us again that courage and solidarity can save lives. All the people who resisted to the National Socialism can be called heroes. One of them is Raymond Gurème who managed to escape 9 times from the Nazis. By digging a tunnel he could provide his imprisoned family with food during the night and he also helped children to escape through the tunnel. He is a real superhero.
On the last day of the exchange we celebrated the 16 May with many other people in a public event in the 8th district in Budapest. Young Roma had the opportunity to make themselves heard through pop culture on the open stage. We had the opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of hate crime and to claim recognition.
I think X-Chavalem was about youth empowerment and teamwork and what we learned is:
- How important it is to work together, because together we are stronger
- To be aware of the existing Roma-pop-culture and
- To use it to manifest the Roma identity and the history
- To continue the resistance until the day when there is no more hate and discrimination against our people, just the same rights and love for everyone
- That each of us can be a superhero.
So… What is your superpower?