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Older Americans and Western Europeans are more likely than their grandchildren to have reservations about growing global interconnectedness, to worry that their way of life is threatened, to feel that their culture is superior to others and to support restrictions on immigration.
Choosing Between Two Paths
Enisa Eminova
MacedoniaGALLERYCONVERSATION
I am a Roma (Gypsy) girl from Eastern Europe, and I must choose between two paths.

One leads me towards traditions that I must respect because of others’ opinions or for the sake of my parents’ reputation. That path grabs me and gives me no space to move, but I must follow it simply because I was born a Roma girl. I do not have the right to choose the other direction that gives me the room to sit down, to reflect, to know that I am an individual with my own sense of self, the one who knows how to steer my own life. I am afraid that I might lose my parents if I do.

So I shall live my whole life between the two paths, practicing the one called tradition. I shall never be a person who can say, “I have an idea. I know how to solve the problem.” That will always be done by someone else, and I shall stand aside, watching someone else deciding for me, someone who is unwilling to hear that I already know what I want.

Just because I decided to study, to get a better job, to be integrated into society, and to choose my partner, I will be labeled as a Gadzi (non-Roma) or as a crazy Roma. The only important criterion for those who decide whether I am smart, whether I come from good family, whether I should be respected, and so on, is my virginity! I must remain a virgin until marriage just because this gives my family a better reputation — otherwise they will disown me or will be disappointed to death.

Once I asked my grandmother, “Grandma, how old were you when you got married?”

She responded, “Well, I was fifteen, I think.” (She is seventy- five now.)

And I asked, “Does this mean that you had sex when you were fifteen?”

She said, “How come you dare to ask such a question?” She was very put out, but she finally said, “Yes, I had sex when I was fifteen. What does this have to do with you?”

So I tried to summarize, saying, “Well, you had no education and no job, you were fifteen, and you decided to get married. I am twenty-one, going to university, speaking English, et cetera, and still I must remain a virgin? Just because I decided to study instead of getting married?”

Then she got even madder and said something like, “Oh, my God! Are you trying to say you are not a virgin anymore?! Listen, if you want to have sex, then get married!”

When I asked her why my virginity is important to her or how she benefits from the situation, she said, “Enough!” Then she went to my house to tell my mother everything I had said and to say she thinks I am not a virgin anymore. Of course, then I had to go through some arguments with my family to explain that I am the only one who creates my own life and future. The outcome of this mess is that

• my family thinks that I am becoming Gadzi (non-Roma);

• they think I am crazy;

• they regret allowing me to join the nonprofit sector, where I travel a lot, have non-Roma friends, and so on;

• they are trying to understand me, but my logic is foreign to them so they are slowly giving up.

So, this is my overview. If the Roma girls in my country want to “stay” Roma, most of them must choose either following their own needs and fulfilling their own expectations or following other people’s expectations — their parents’, the community’s, and so on. It is so difficult to balance!

[Parts of this essay are excerpted from “On Virginity — Vas o chaipeu”]

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Shatyra Rogers (United States)
My question for you is, are you strong enough? Reading you article you made me feel that what you want more than any thing is to be your true self. I can understand the reasons why you are not the self you want to be, but in order to bring together your divided self you must be strong enough to be yourself around those whom would call you a “Gadzi” how important to you that you get to be yourself?
bjeffries
Enisa,
Good job for standing up for yourself despite what everyone would think. We live in a world today were we are bombarded by what other people think we should act like so for a women like yourself to stand up and not let society influence her decision but to make one for yourself is very respectful.
holleed (United States)
This was beautifully written. I am sad to hear you could not have both your culture and your own life. I believe you made the right choice, but I understand your family's frustration. Best of wishes.
Ermiyas Weldu (United States)
Enisa,
I wanted to commend you for challenging the norm. Even thou, I am a male and carry no experience of what it's like to be a female; I, however, is the type of person who consistently asks the question why for many different circumstance that society has established on my behalf and expect me to walk through it. Most expectation and demand that looms over my head does not make sense.
Lien Nguyen
Enisa,

I have a similar experience like yours. My family had a lot of expectations and they surely does not allow me to have sex before marriage just like your grandma. They are really sensitive when talking about having sex before marriage. I know how hard it is sometimes for us to break the tradition.
Thanks for sharing.
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