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Sitting on the terrace, accompanied by the strong smell of espresso sitting idly on the wire table in front of us.

Downtrodden. He looks tired.

Just four years ago his life was completely different. In Spain, he had a job; he could get by with food on the table and a roof over his head, which is not often said for the Roma. One day, that job was secure, the next it was not. Without a job, he placed his last hope in his family, migrating to France.

“The problem is that in Spain there is racism, but in France there is even more racism. Here, you cannot tell anyone you are Roma, you must say you are Spanish.”

Racism. It is quite clearly not just America’s narrative. The Roma are targeted based on the color of their skin and kicked out or driven to the far reaches of every country they attempted to settle. My eyes drift to the cobblestone below, then down to my fingers as they dig into the skin next to my thumbnail until I see a drip of crimson. I think of home. He continues.

“In this village, because there are a lot of Spanish migrants, the schools are full of Spaniards. So now the teachers don’t give any attention to these children, they treat them as something separate, isolated. You can really feel the disdain for all foreigners, but especially the Roma.”

Privilege. The first word that pops in my mind. I am humbled by what he’s saying. Throughout my life, my education growing up, my university education now, allowing me to sit where I am. I always thought I worked hard for my education and opportunities. That may be partly true, but much of the help I’ve received along the way is the access given me simply due to the hue of my skin.

My heart aches as he goes on to describe the prejudice that the Roma suffer from the authorities. I think of home, of those who also suffer at the hands of the authorities. Something I have never experienced.

A few moments of silence.

His brows furrow briefly, but he unknits them just as quickly, saying,

“If you think too much about it, you can start to have depression, to get very, very down. But thanks to God, this is one of the advantages I have, being Roma. Every time I start to think that my life is terrible, I think that I am Roma. And I am thinking that my ancestors passed through worse situations; but we adapted, we survived. When the depression comes, I say to myself, ‘Hey I’m Roma, no reason to be afraid.’”

I feel a power, a warmth emanating from him as he speaks. Every reason in the world to be afraid, but he is not afraid. He knows who he is, where he comes from.


Can I say the same?

I reach for my tiny porcelain espresso, and gaze aimlessly beside me as he does the same. A peaceful silence. Never would I have guessed that a terrace, a coffee, and a conversation would realign my perspective. Sometimes it seems being optimistic about people and life is energy-consuming when you look at everything that is going on. But then I look at the man next to me, the hardships society has placed on him, and he still finds peace.

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