COLORADO| Cristina A. Bejan | As we celebrate both International Women’s Day and Mărțișor, I propose that we also confront the issue of Romanian-Americans’ reluctance to self-identify as “Romanian” on the US Census. Alianța has a social media campaign reminding us who our famous Romanian heroes are.
From Constantin Brâncuși to Ilie Năstase to Nadia Comăneci, we can see faces we know too well. We are proud of them, but can they make us proud to be Romanian-American? Can they make us check the “Romanian” box on the census? I propose we take a look in the mirror instead. We don’t have to look far – or back to Romania – to find reasons why being Romanian-American is awesome, and we should be proud to openly declare it.
Something that is so cool about having Romanian heritage is that we have so many powerful and inspirational women in both our history and across the United States today. I know that both inspire me to pursue my dreams as an artist and author. I grew up being enthralled by Queen Mary of course, and I had a sense of who Monica Lovinescu was, and what she was up to with Radio Free Europe.
But I really identified with our iconic poets Nina Cassian, who was from my father’s hometown Galați, and Ana Blandiana. In high school I was lucky enough to meet Lia Perjovschi who came to Duke University for an exhibition of her and her husband Dan’s work. Seeing her example – a strong woman creating art on her own terms – inspired me to never compromise my own creativity.
Growing up a Romanian-American woman in the American South, I didn’t see any American women doing everything that I wanted to do. I didn’t have any examples in North Carolina. In the United States there is a tendency to focus on one thing, to specialize. But I wanted to do everything! Write plays, poems and be a nerd – basically.
As I became more aware of the Romanian-American diaspora, I discovered amazing female theatre artists, poets and professors Domnica Radulescu and Saviana Stanescu. I admired them from afar and thought if they can do it, so can I. More recently I discovered the work of Catalina Florina Florescu, whose energy and daring inspires me to no end. Shameless plug: my arts group is producing an evening of plays by Radulescu, Stanescu, Florescu, Rucsandra Pop, Amanda Andrei and myself – March 28, 7pm in Denver, Colorado. Check out “Bucharest Inside the Beltway” on Facebook for details!
As a historian, I studied the work of University of Pittsburgh history professor Irina Livezeanu for my PhD and have been in absolute awe of her ever since. And that is just the beginning! We have so many powerful women in academia I cannot even do justice to them here. In the Humanities I think of anthropologist Emanuela Grama of Carnegie Mellon University and English professor at Saint Francis University Roxana Cazan. In Sciences, I can only scratch the surface.
Here, in Colorado, we have a goldmine of Romanian-American women scientists of all generations! Iuliana Oprea is a mathematics professor at Colorado State University. Laura Hurdish is a Post-Doc in Biology at University of Colorado – Boulder. Dana Dabalea is an MD/PhD, Professor and Director of the LEAD Center at the University of Colorado-Denver. Professor Veronica Vaida teaches chemistry at CU-Boulder. And undergraduate student Anna Nica, also at CU-Boulder, is studying astrophysics and has already volunteered for NASA projects! Are you impressed yet? I am sure that if you look in your community, you will find many incredible and brilliant Romanian-American women too.
I would be remiss to tell this story without highlighting the valiant contributions of women across the country curating and promoting Romanian art and culture. Alina Celia Cumpan of Chicago immediately comes to mind. Her organization “The Authentic Society for Language and Romanian Culture” constantly produces sold-out events that promote both traditional and modern Romanian culture.
Daniela Kammrath’s tireless efforts in Washington DC over the past six years at the helm of Alianța must absolutely be acknowledged. Corina Rebegea (DC) and Raluca Bucur (NYC) are female forces behind Alianța today. And Raluca Cimpoiasu manages the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York with American efficiency and Romanian grace. RCINY has become a welcoming home for both Romanians and Americans. And I cannot close out this tribute without mentioning some of our powerful women poets leading the Romanian-American scene: Carmen Bugan, Adela Sinclair and Alina Ştefănescu.
Did I mention that we also have Romanian-American Olympic athletes in Colorado and have just had a national US tour of Romanian Cinema? I have to stop here because I have run out of space! Remember that what I have shared is absolutely not an exhaustive list! Finally, we cannot forget that being Romanian-American, we are also, yes, American! We have two countries, two cultures, two languages (maybe more!).
We have an understanding of oppression and crimes against humanity. And I know we have a shared desire for justice for all of mankind, founded in our deep appreciation of American freedom and democracy. We are so lucky to have so many dimensions. A diaspora once full of suspicion and trauma, I can see that we are uniting in a way across the United States that I never thought possible growing up. Let us continue to admire one another, support one another and be inspired by one another. Like I said, being Romanian-American is awesome! Let’s sing it from the rooftops!
Happy International Women’s Day! Mărțișor fericit tuturor!