Gina Csanyi-Robah, a Roma, is safe. She cannot be kicked out of the country. Her health-care benefits will not be snatched away. She is not a refugee.
She was born here. She grew up here. She went to university here. She teaches here.
She is one of us.
She is also the director of the Roma Cultural Centre, and recently she went to Ottawa and spoke to the Senate committee looking at this government’s immigration bill. She spoke on behalf of the Roma refugees.
And on behalf of us.
Did she have any impact? I’m not sure. The bill remains mean and miserable; it will snatch health care from the vulnerable, it will put pregnant women at risk, it will jeopardize the health of children and the elderly.
It also means that we are on the verge of deporting thousands of Hungarian Roma back to a country where the dangers for them will be heightened.
What kind of bill is that? Oh, sorry, I forgot. It is a Canadian Conservative government bill.
I was curious about what Gina told the committee, and so I went to see her at the cultural centre in the west end of the city. I wanted to know a bit about her first. She said, “I’m a Canadian-born Roma. I’m 37. I’ve been dealing with racism all my life. My family came here in 1956.” In other words, during the upheaval of the revolution.
“My grandparents put my aunt in a suitcase and walked out. At the time, my grandmother was pregnant with my mother.”
Her aunt, in a suitcase? “One of those carry bags; my aunt was a baby at the time. My grandparents were musicians. I come from a family of five generations of violin players; my grandmother danced, and my grandfather played in the grand hotels of Szekesfehervar.”
The family landed in Nova Scotia and went to work on farms in the Niagara region; eventually, they moved to Hamilton. “My grandparents didn’t speak English, they never went to school; school is not where Roma had good experiences.
“When my mother was 7 years old, the Children’s Aid took the kids from my grandparents and put them in foster homes.” Why? “Because they weren’t in school. The result? “My grandfather began to drink when the children were taken away. He died as a result.”
But Gina is the best example of what ultimately happens to the children and grandchildren of all refugees — Roma and others — in Canada: she grew up bright, sensitive, and committed to making things better in the wider world. She is also the first person in her family to get past Grade 10. She has a double major in political science and sociology.
Why did she want to go to Ottawa? She said, “I’m Canadian before I’m anything; what I see in this bill is the opposite of everything I was taught.”
I was about to press her for specifics, but she wanted to give me as much background as she could, so that I would understand. “My grandmother’s sister was a Holocaust survivor. They did experiments on her reproductive system. Her first child was born deformed.”
That memory sharpened something inside her. “The odds are stacked against us. We have limited opportunities for inclusion. Our contact with the dominant society? People spit on you; a lot of Canadians don’t get that.”
And then she said something which I have always suspected: “There are Roma settlements that are more than 400 years old; we didn’t start out nomadic, and we don’t want to end nomadic.”
What did she tell the committee?
Wait for it.
Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: email@example.com