On Friday, September 14, 2018, at the invitation of the U.S. State Department, the Roma Peoples Project (RPP) at Columbia University met with a group of Roma leaders who are engaged in integrating the Roma communities of Spain into that country’s mainstream. The members of the delegation -– Ms. Beatriz Carrillo de los Reyes, Ms. Ana Maria Segovia Montoya, Ms. Maria del Carmen Jimenez Borja, Mr. Fernando Morion Fernandez, and Ms. Ledicia Suarez Rodriguez -– are traveling across the United States for several weeks as part of an International Visitor Leadership Program entitled “Advancing Integration Through Education” to meet with experts in education, human rights, and other fields germane to their work.
RPP founder Cristiana Grigore welcomed the delegation, which is the first Roma group to be part of this Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Meanwhile, we learned that there is another Roma scholar at Columbia University, Joanna Talewicz-Kwiatkowska, who was part of the same International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. State Department, entitled “Women’s Leadership” in 2011. Ms. Talewicz-Kwiatkowska is now a fellow of Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University for the Fall semester.
The meeting started with a campus tour, facilitated by the Visitors Center, where the delegation learned about Columbia history during visits to Low Library, Butler Library, and the bridge over Amsterdam Avenue that connects the main campus with the Law School and the School of International and Public Affairs. During the tour, Ms. Grigore and the delegation members spoke about their respective efforts and explored how they could collaborate to create new opportunities for Roma in mainstream society. They also discussed the role of academia in promoting research, representation, and dialogue.
After the tour, they headed to the Psychology Department’s Center for Justice, where the RPP is based. Ms. Grigore introduced the RPP, spoke about its mission to create a platform for Roma peoples and studies, and outlined its current objectives. She noted that while the Roma are a global people with numerous, nuanced identities, most Roma come to understand their own identities within the context of a particular family and/or a local community.
After Ms. Grigore’s opening remarks, Laura Waldman, a human rights researcher, presented on the topic of “Building Solidarity and Understanding Between Roma and Non-Roma: Potential Uses of Circle Processes.” She explored how circle processes can foster dialogue between people from different ethnic groups by enabling them to identify similarities and differences. These processes can also be used to defuse rising racial tensions, challenge discriminatory policies, and lay the basis for reconciliation and restorative justice.
Following Ms. Waldman’s presentation, Michael Ciuraru, a Roma entrepreneur, shared his experience growing up in New York, addressing not only his interactions with the mainstream society but also the internal dynamics within Roma communities across the United States. Hearing Mr. Ciuraru’s story led to the group discussing similarities in their experiences as Roma, such as dealing with criminalized identities and struggling with stigma, while also acknowledging the support they have received from friends and allies.
Ms. Carrillo de los Reyes shared some personal reflections about Roma resilience amid a long history of struggles and argued that Roma people must write new narratives for themselves. Ms. Grigore remarked that the observations shared by the group confirmed the Roma Peoples Project’s mission. The Roma Peoples Project was honored to host the Roma delegation from Spain, and all of the participants acknowledged the remarkable exchange of ideas and expertise between a pioneering project dedicated to Roma at Columbia University and the first Roma delegation to be part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
Thank you to Visitors Center for arranging a tour for us, Jessica Reyes for guidance, Isaac Scott for photos, and to the Center for Justice and the Department of Psychology for hosting us!