Colorado IE DAY – International Day of the Romanian Blouse in the Wild West

Cosmina Ioana Barbat, RAFA director and her sons in Colorado
Celebrating IE DAY in Denver 2019

COLORADO | Cristina A. Bejan | I currently have a closet full of “ie” of all different colors and styles in our tiny one-bedroom apartment in Denver, Colorado. I have been given most of them as gifts by Romanian visitors when I was growing up in Durham, North Carolina in the 90s. My favorite though was the “ie” that my Romanian father gave my American mother when they met in Boston in the 70s.

I loved the photos of her wearing her “ie” and carrying her red embroidered Romanian purse back when my parents were hippies. When I was in high school I proudly wore an “ie” to school as well as a traditional Romanian tricolor belt (I called my “Romanian pride belt”) with jeans when my classmates instead dressed like they were going to the country club (which many did). I was weird according to them but my “ie” was beautiful and unique. My sister and I were the only Romanians in our school and I always wanted to show it.

The “ie” – the Romanian traditional blouse – has a significance to Romania’s history and to her global diaspora today. The International Day of the Romanian Blouse [Ziua internatională a iei] – June 24 – was started by the heritage non-profit La Blouse Roumaine. I was living in Washington DC in 2015 when Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a city proclamation making IE DAY a District holiday. That June 24 we all gathered on the Washington Mall for photos at the Washington Monument, with a view of the Lincoln Memorial. Bogdan Banu, President of Romanians of DC, puts in a huge effort to create a beautiful celebration for the Romanian DMV community each year.

When my partner and I moved out to Colorado from the East Coast last year we wanted to meet the local Romanian community. We had been here about a month when IE DAY popped up on my calendar and I decided that we should host a celebration in our downtown apartment. I posted the invite on Meetup and so many people came to celebrate. Our apartment was full! I provided “ie” for those guests who didn’t own one (remember I have a closet full!). We ate a Romanian tricolor cake and posed for photos with Romanian flags (yes, I just keep some around just in case!). 

We made so many friends that night and I shared photos from our party on social media. This year when IE DAY was rolling around Banu in DC had a different plan to accommodate the global pandemic and the new virtual universe. IE DAY was going to be online and the Romanian communities across the USA were invited to contribute. Alina Celia Cumpan of Chicago and the President of the Authentic Society for Language and Romanian Culture reached out to me. Remembering our humble IE DAY celebration last year in Denver, she suggested I join this national effort of the diaspora representing Colorado. I gladly and emphatically said Da!

Cristina A. Bejan celebrating Ie Day in Colorado

With my arts organization Bucharest Inside the Beltway as my base, I reached out to Cosmina Ioana Barbat, President of RAFA (The Romanian-American Freedom Alliance) and Maria-Cristina Iordan (Head of Romanians of Colorado) hoping for collaboration. Cosmina and I went on a three hour hike in the Rocky Mountains where we fleshed out our vision for Colorado’s IE DAY and solidified our plans. We agree to make a video collage of photographs of Romanian-Americans in “ie.”

Our strong suggestions when we solicited photos (which we did on social media and individually) was that the photos be next to a Colorado landmark or something distinctly Colorado. The photos poured in. From Golden, Denver, the Rocky Mountains, and more. And because of my ties to North Carolina, so many NC friends sent me photos in “ie.” My absolute favorite photo for our collage was of me and my favorite student Whitecloud, who is from the Arapahoe Reservation in Wyoming. We posed with the Romanian and Arapahoe Nation flags with my dog Pickles in front of Colorado’s capital in Denver. In this photo I am wearing the “ie” that my partner gave me on our most recent trip to Transylvania. 

Of course I cannot write about how it was in fact difficult to get excited about a heritage holiday last month. The United States was experiencing a very troubled period in terms of racial inequality and police brutality. I found my Romanian and American sides in conflict. How could I celebrate one country when the other was in mourning? How could I celebrate when I myself was in mourning?

Cosmina Ioana Barbat, RAFA director and her sons in Colorado

So I thought a lot about it and realized, it is important to celebrate history, culture, and identity and maybe this little moment – when Romanians were coming together virtually across the world – could be a sign of solidarity to those who suffer and a celebration of all of our shared humanity. And a celebration of the human spirit it was and I am so happy that I participated and joined in as a member of the global Romanian diaspora community.

The importance of “ie” cannot be emphasized enough for the Romanian psyche both at home and abroad. The traditional Romanian blouse also finds its way into my creative work. I have just published a book of poems Green Horses on the Walls and the central poem “Nu e rolul meu” begins like this: 

”Last time I saw Mirela was in a photograph Black and white, she was brunette then and very tiny Wearing an ie – the traditional Romanian blouse”. The collection is largely about my Romanian heritage, identity and experiences. If you are curious to learn more, all my books are available on Amazon.

And our Colorado IE DAY video collage is available to watch you Youtube. It was such a joy and pleasure to work with RAFA and Romanians in Colorado to bring everyone together virtually and create this tribute. Thank you Natalia Ghilascu and HORA Magazine for the invitation to contribute this piece, thank you Cosmina Barbat for the hard work and I hope everyone enjoys the video!

Cristina A. Bejan