Un Petit Village Appelé Usson

Within the Auvergne region of France, there is a tiny village called Usson. This particular place set the foundation of generations of shared memories and repressed grief in my family. However, no one in current living memory can recall anything about it. We have since been “repatriated” and no one has even considered stepping foot back onto French soil since our forced removal… Until me.

This isn’t to say, of course, that members of my family didn’t leave France of their own volition prior to 1907.  In fact, my family frequently left France. I think as Americans people sometimes forget just how interconnected Europe really is; and for Roma, who travel from place to place trying not to egregiously overstay their welcome, that is a very important fact. Truthfully, a majority of my ancestors remained in the Auvergne region of France as it functioned as the hub of familial identity and culture. The “elders” – for lack of a better term – stayed in or quite near Usson as they took control of the family, but their children – once adults – would sometimes build lives for themselves elsewhere. Despite this, we are still considered Manouche (French Roma). That is our identity.

Mimsy, my great-great-grandmother was born in Usson and she was the last. At three years old, her parents gathered what they could and she made her way to America with them. Over time, memories of what they left behind faded amongst us along with our native language.

As an undergrad here at the University of Oklahoma, I have furthered my studies in my two favorite fields: French and History. I had spent a sizeable portion of my childhood pondering the implications the Roma “repatriations” have had on my people. From this, I have finalized the decision to study French as my second major and reclaim some of what was lost to us all those years ago. For the longest time, I have wanted to see France – sometimes I even think that I want to see it “again”. I have, obviously, not actually been to France yet, but I want to see it for my family, not just for myself. It’s time that a Duval returns to our homeland. Usson is a destination that is hard to reach, however. There aren’t a lot of programs catering to an American college student there, but… Clermont-Ferrand is only thirty miles away. OU, also, just so happens to periodically send students to Clermont-Ferrand as a part of University Exchange. That chance would bring me closer to our past than anyone has been in over a century. Isn’t that amazing?

Political Consolidation of Power

A recent topic of conversation in my American Government class has been whether a leader should be allowed to fill important advisory positions with relatives and old friends without regard to actual proficiency in the field. Originally, this topic was debating the appointments made by the current POTUS, Donald Trump. Things like putting his son-in-law in charge of coordinating the efforts for peace in the Middle East amongst his other duties alongside his wife, Donald’s daughter, another high-profile Trump advisor. When that promotion came to light, it wasn’t the first time President Trump’s motivations had come into question and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Another Trump Administration example being the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education despite her general lack of experience in the educational administration field and well-documented bias in favor of ineffective charter schools – of which she has financial ties. These power moves in Washington D.C. have culminated in Americans seeing political consolidation everywhere. However, there are recent examples where it’s plainly obvious.

Kim Yo Jong – younger sister to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – was promoted to a high ranking position sometime before the ruling party’s summit in late 2017. (If that sounded familiar, I would ask you read the third sentence of this post again.) No one is yet sure of what exactly this could mean for the governmental policies and foreign affairs in regards to North Korea, but some have speculated that recent cooperation between North and South Korea, such as with the upcoming Olympics, is a good sign for the direction the regime is taking. However, most agree that enough time has yet to pass between her appointment and any major action taken to determine her exact stance on any one issue. Truthfully, Yo Jong has been a member of the regime’s political dealings for many years, though never in a position this high. Though, that is exactly what is causing concern. Other associates of Jong Un who have filled these positions in the past have been swiftly executed upon being deemed a threat to Jong Un’s control. Yo Jong has had a lifetime to build a rapport with her brother, but what does that really mean? Could his sister be a figurehead meant only to fill a seat or does she wield more power than we know?

Define Global Engagement

What is global engagement? Why does it matter?

~*~

A simple phrase composed of popular buzzwords has a special impact on its target audience – whether positive or negative – and “global engagement” is no exception. However, despite how often this phrase is used in slogans and university recruitment messages, morning talk-shows, etc.; it is fairly common for the meaning of the phrase to be overlooked in favor of a sense of omniscience.

The educated enjoy feeling informed, and they should. Being an informed citizen of the world is a tremendously important thing. Truly, it would be almost impossible to live successfully in the very global world we have created for ourselves without such a skill. Nevertheless, what is generally regarded as being “informed” is not the same as being “globally engaged”.

Informed people are your hipster cousin Deborah who’s newest reinvention of herself involves only wearing “authentic” hand-embroidered saris or your brother’s new girlfriend who is “just so shocked” by the underage sex-trade in Russia, the fact that Klansmen still roam the streets of the American South, and every informed citizen’s favorite – starving children in Africa. (Obviously, these are all terrible issues in modern society and I am in no way belittling them. My point is that your brother’s “informed citizen” girlfriend doesn’t care about those children being sold to predators in Siberia or infants dying of hunger in Burundi or any of the other hundreds of human atrocities that flash across her phone screen.) Merriam-Webster’s definition of engagement is as follows: “to be involved or greatly interested in an event or cause. synonym: committed”.

You see, it isn’t enough to acknowledge that these issues exist. On the same note, reading the Wiki page about a culture and extending your wardrobe to include new garments will not make you a “citizen of the world”. There’s an amount of effort required to understand and appreciate or consider things from many different perspectives. It’s easy enough to sit in your living room in Norman, Oklahoma and watch a news story about how teen pregnancy is on the rise in Britain and an entirely different one to think, “How could they take steps to instigate change? Why are children as young as twelve getting pregnant? What could be the catalyst for this? What is the sexual education like there? Do they have access to contraceptives?” It is important to understand the many facets of a situation or culture, not just the surface that is presented to us all.

In short, being “globally engaged” means looking at the world around you and actually giving a damn.

Bonjour et bienvenue à la sémantique “gypsy”!

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Dahlia (a.k.a. The Illustrious Reina Duval). J’étudie le français et l’histoire à l’Univerisité d’Oklahoma. C’est ma première année ici. De plus, mon français n’est pas très bon. So, let’s switch to English.

If you caught all of that, you should know that I am currently a freshman dual-major in French and history at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. (Also, my French is “not very good”. Can you even say that in French? Someone, please let me know.) I’m known for having an exuberant personality and somewhat misplaced confidence. Truthfully, I just don’t see the point in agonizing over how people view you. They’ll either like you or they won’t, so just be… weird.

~Detail Time~

I’m a first-generation college student off to explore the collective history of mankind and learn what could have been my first language. You see, my mother’s side of the family has two distinct branches: white American southerners and Manouche. (There are three options for what you know about the Manouche people: you knew nothing and are waiting for me to explain; you knew nothing and went to Google, finding almost nothing; or you are also Manouche. Leave a comment describing your status?)

The Manouche are a subset of the Roma people or what most refer to as “gypsies”. However, “gypsy” is considered pejorative (a slur) in a lot of these cultures. So, really, if you come into contact with Roma or Travellers in the future, “gypsy” is probably not a good way to go. Now, you might be wondering how you get from gypsy to Roma to Manouche.

The word gypsy has been used to encapsulate many peoples and cultures including the Roma and Travellers. Travellers (or Irish Travellers) come from Ireland, Scotland and (occasionally) specific areas of Scandinavia while the Kale are specific to Finland and Wales. Gitanos (or Gitans) are Spanish-speaking branches of the culture that inhabit Spain and have migrated to Latin America. Sinti people are Germanic (i.e. Germany, Poland, Austria, etc.) and the Manouche roam France.

I am a descendant of a “relocated” Manouche family. (Basically, we were deported.) Said family has since settled in Arkansas, USA. What a transition.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this cultural tidbit and learned something here today.

That’s all the time we have today, folks.

Au revoir!

Latin American Dancing: It Happened!

So this is what happened:

  1. I got there with my friends
  2. We signed in
  3. We entered the ballroom
  4. I froze

I looked at the three couples that were dancing rather well on the dance floor, and I got really confused and nervous. My stomach started turning and there was this really tight knot in it that I wasn’t particularly excited for. I looked at my friend Anna and she looked at me…and then we both kinda just laughed in what I would describe as an awkward air.

We had two guy friends with us which made the night fairly entertaining as I had just met her friend and our other friend…well..we weren’t exactly the closest at that moment in time. Anyway, we watched as the other couples danced until Anna’s friend, Alex, took both of us onto the floor and attempted to teach us. It didn’t work out too well considering I don’t have a rhythmic bone in my body, but we managed to not die, so it was okay.

Then a nicely dressed man took his place on the stage and asked the room to quiet down. He said he was going to teach us how to dance. So we all settled onto the floor, the girls on one side, the guys on the other, and we learned how to Salsa.

It actually turned out to be really fun. I realized that if I opened myself up a little more than I thought I should, then I could actually dance. I’m a really nervous person, and I don’t like to put myself in situations where I can make a fool of myself, but I learned that sometimes it’s necessary in order to become more accepting of something, and it’s good for you – I hear that it builds character.

Humility is important, and I think it is important because when you study abroad, you won’t be comfortable. You’ll be in situations that are unfamiliar, but it’s important to keep a level head. Everything will eventually turn out okay, and that’s what matters.

Eid-al-Adha

The first International Event that I went to was the Muslim Student Association’s celebration of Eid-al-Adha. At first I was there for an assignment for The Oklahoma Daily, but I was realized as the event went on that I was gathering more than just photos – I was experiencing with the people around me a celebration.

For them, it was a celebration of something that happened in their history and their culture – their prophet was willing to trust in their god so much that he was prepared to sacrifice his own child, but in the end, the god was satisfied with the prophet’s commitment, so his child wasn’t killed.

It was eye-opening. I am not very religious – I am aware of some of the beliefs held by others, and I understand some of the basic, general things, but I wouldn’t say I know anything in depth; I’m not claiming to now, either, but I do know more than I did, and I know more than I thought I ever would.

It was interesting to see their celebration. They gave speeches telling why the holiday was important, students’ families were there so that they could all celebrate together (because it was a late celebration since the students were in class, so this was kind of like a belated celebration), there was entertainment that was different and new to me.

The entertainment was definitely the most memorable for me I think. They began with a performance by a group of young men that danced in to music. Then they went on stage and danced and sang, but it wasn’t like the dances that we think about everyday, it was something so much more meaningful. And the songs that they used meant something, too, because there were people in the crowd singing along. It looked like they were telling a story.

Another performance was by a young man who had just gotten back from Dallas, Texas. He has his own channel on YouTube and writes raps that sound like poetry and actually MEAN something. He spoke about how everything is so materialistic and how what matters isn’t necessarily something that can be seen and is right in front of you, it’s what you can’t see, like the bonds that you have with your family.

The event was an incredible experience and I’m glad, and fortunate, that I was able to go and share it with them. I got to see a different way of celebration from a culture that I never thought I would be able to experience, or ever had much interest in experiencing, but I’m certainly glad I did.