I am Romanian
With time, I’ve come to realise that you don’t truly love yourself until you accept every single part of who you are. It’s sometimes surprising how many parts of ourselves we deny and reject without even realising. It’s only when you open up your heart to yourself that you start embracing every bit of yourself whether it is your body, race, gender, nationality, mental and physical limitations, quirkiness or any other particularity.
For a long time, I hated my condition as a woman. I rejected my gender and I wished many times that I was born a man. It took a man’s love to help me embrace my femininity and I wrote about this experience here. However, in this post, I wanted to talk about another part of me that I’ve rejected ever since I was a little girl.
I’ve been ashamed of being Romanian ever since I can remember. It all started out around 12 years old when I moved to Brussels with my family and joined Brussels American School. The first questions my colleagues asked me were: “Are you gay?” and “Are you a gypsy?” I barely spoke a word of English and the fact that I was Romanian wasn’t helping. Foreigners were immediately excluded and they ended up in a particular group of so called “losers”. The experience in this school was very similar to the bullying you see in most American high school movies. It was that raw, real and hurtful.
From 5th grade to 10th grade, the word Romanian was strongly interlinked to being a Roma. There was a lot of prejudice around this label as there is still nowadays. But the labels didn’t stop there. As I went on to my university years, Romanian girls acquired a new label of being “easy and gold-diggers”. This one scared me the most. As I was already uncomfortable being a woman, now I was both a woman and a Romanian.
I spent most of my early adulthood battling these labels and avoiding by any means to “act” like a woman or a Romanian. Whatever that meant… Little by little I started hating Romanian traditions, Romanian food and deliberately started avoiding Romanians.
Unfortunately, these labels were further reinforced when I started working. Before entering the EU, Romanians had a hard time getting a work permit in Belgium and many of my job applications were rejected based on my nationality. It was during this time, that I decided to go back to Romania and embrace my nationality. However, things did not go as planned.
After 8 years of living in Belgium and denying a big part of who I was, I wasn’t fully ready to accept my nationality. During my stay in Romania, I was quickly knocked down by the “Romanian” mentality and lifestyle. Corruption, materialism, rudeness, lack of diplomacy, conservatism, narrow-mindedness, aggression, petty and competitive nature and judgmental attitudes were the only words to describe what I saw around me. Inflexibility and lack of tolerance towards imperfection blinded me from seeing the good things.
Working four years in Romania were enough to bring me into a deep depression and hatred towards my country and myself for ever wanting to go back there. I could not adapt, I could not see beyond the daily difficulties and there was nothing more that I wanted than to leave and never come back.
The day I got a job in Brussels, was one of the most memorable days of my life. Fleeing Romania felt like waking up from a long nightmare. It was the greatest escape of my life. It was my rebirth and chance to a second life. Only after I received my work permit, signed the employment contract and rented my first apartment, I was able to break down in tears and say: “I made it!” Until then, everything still seemed unreal.
Five years passed since then. Today, I am proud to say I am Romanian. So, what changed? What made me embrace a part of me, which I once hated with all my being?
The first step I took was to work on myself. I spent three years dissecting my past and understanding who I am. I took time to listen to my frustrations, anguishes and pain. I understood that I let others define me, rather than defining myself. I understood that the rejection from others, made me reject myself. I learned not to take rejection personally and not to let labels define who I am. And finally, I learned to accept and love myself as I am.
However, reaching out to myself was not enough. Wonderful Romanian people reached out to me during this time and helped me understand that not everyone is the same. Sometimes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. My family and three wonderful Romanian women showed me how wonderful it is to be both a woman and a Romanian. I no longer run away from my fellow citizens. I welcome them in my life and l am proud to be part of the Romanian community in Brussels.
However, everything changed when the tragedy in Colectiv happened and Romanians took the streets. I never felt more connected to my country and to my people than in that moment of tragedy and social awakening. I understood the exhaustion, the frustration, the struggle, the lack of perspective and the anger. I understood that they are also suffering as much as I once suffered in Romania. Seeing so many young, talented and active Romanian lives taken away made me realise that so many Romanians are victims of a corrupt society and a dysfunctional system.
And, unlike me, not all of them want to leave, have the strength or possibility to leave. Not all of them have been detached from their country for so long that they are able to leave their families and friends behind. Luckily, many of them still dare to hope. They still love and invest in Romania no matter how hard it may be.
And with this event, every label that I’ve created for Romanians faded away. Words such as: corruption, materialism, rudeness, lack of diplomacy, conservatism, narrow-mindedness, aggression, petty and competitive nature and judgmental attitudes are not attached to the Romanian nature. They describe human nature in general no matter the race, gender or nationality.
Now, I would love to brag and give you some positive adjectives about how great Romanians are, but this is not the point of this article. The point is to tell you that it is a journey in itself to embrace all of who you are. If there are parts of yourself that you reject, it is a good idea to stop and analyse. We deserve all our love, not just half of it.
I am everything I am today because I am a Romanian woman. Two wonderful Romanian parents raised me and I am lucky to have a Romanian husband with which I look forward to raising children who are proud of their nationality.
Photo credits: Anamaria Olaru
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