The Roma queer experience of an immigrant: looking for a sense of belonging while searching for myself
Author: Veronica Petrescu
I am Roma.
I am queer.
I am an immigrant.
And I am living in the middle of all these identities, still struggling to make sense of who I am. Most days, I don’t even know where to start.
And how could I?
While all those identities coexist within me, I cannot find the ways to link them – to become whole.
And I cannot find a place to belong without having to silence parts of them.
I was born in Eastern Europe in the ‘90s, as the only child of a mixed family – having my father’s culture and my mother’s skin. My journey started with the privilege of being white-passing in a time and place where Roma were subjected to abuses, arson, lynchings, and pogroms. And in this context, there is no surprise that my parents tried to raise me white in their attempt to protect me and give me a better future that they had. They built me a bubble where race didn’t exist. But everything came with a price they never anticipated I will have to pay later – internalized racism, suppressed micro-aggressions and thousands of racial questions I never had answers for.
One of the very few pictures with my parents is a traditional Christmas portrait from when I was 2, that is until today framed on my bookshelf. Yet the happiness in it is far from being the first thing anyone notices in the picture – instead, they notice the dark skin of my father and his eyes so intensely black holding a pale child with blonde curls.
“You don’t look like your father!”
I heard this a million times growing up and it’s still echoing in the back of my mind when I am questioning my identity as Roma.
Too white in the community, too Roma outside of it – always feeling like the simple fact of being mixed-race makes me wrong for not being able to fit one of the boxes. Always feeling not good enough and too much in the same time.
I was 16 when I fell in love with my best-friend. None of us understood that fragile love and what it means. I never saw any LGBTQIA people around me and there were no public figures that you could look up to. I only became more confused with who I am, feeling even more out of the place – constantly thinking that there is something wrong with me, that I need to be fixed. So I just supressed everything, hoping that by dating enough men, I will become attracted to them eventually.
At 22 I left Eastern Europe, coming to United Kingdom and hoping to finally find my place. But I couldn’t anticipate the particular experience of feeling trapped between two cultures, the struggle of being away from home and the pain of erasing your own roots in order to be accepted.
I will soon be 25.
I am white enough to pass as white, but I am Roma enough to never integrate as white.
I am an immigrant from Eastern Europe, carrying the generational trauma of imperialism, but benefiting from it by living in the United Kingdom.
I am queer and still figuring out my gender and sexuality, 9 years later.
But I am also neurodivergent. And a survivor of domestic abuse.
And I am still trying to put all these pieces together, learning to coexist among identities. I simultaneously celebrate them and hide from them. There are days when I feel confused and inferior for not fitting in a single box. Other days I feel confident, reminding myself that I carry an incredible culture that our ancestors fought to keep, break the gender and sexual binaries and thrive in a society that I am still discovering.
I will soon be 25 and I am learning to accept all those feelings and to embrace everything that comes with them.
I am a queer Roma immigrant, I exist in messy ways, but I will no longer silence any of them.