Where the streets have no names

Dealing with identities in a Transylvanian village.

The railway station in Cristian divides the village into two parts. On the left side the houses are quite big and painted in bright colors. Even though the road is not paved, the effort of the locals to keep everything in order is obvious. The smaller part of the village, which is on the station’s right hand side is somehow different. The houses are smaller. Some of them do not even have glass in the windows. The locals call it ‘Dallas’ and it is the Roma part of the village. Our small research team consisting of six people wants to study the inter-ethnic relations in this village. Seeing the Roma district divided from the rest of it, we become convinced of the success of our mission. It seems to be an appropriate place for conducting this kind of research.

We are sitting in the yard just behind Mircea’s house drinking coffee from Romanian china. He is a PhD student of history at the Bucharest University and knows the history of his village better than everybody else. That is why his nickname is: ‘The Mini Mayor’ According to Mircea, Cristian has more than 4000 inhabitants of whom the majority are Romanians. There is quite a big Roma community concentrated in the area called Dallas, as mentioned above, as well as a very small number of Saxons.

The ethnic identities in Cristian, as in any place on Earth, are fluid. Just like the Cibin river that crosses the village, the contextual identifiers float and change, producing apparent paradoxical situations. Dana, a Roma woman married to a Romanian, told us the story of her relationship. She revealed to us the conflicts produced by her marriage within the local community. Rumors, rejections from the families, loneliness and pride were a few consequences of daring love. So, she had to move to Sibiu to let forgetfulness slip into the village.

The monologue of a Roma woman

How did we meet? I don’t remember exactly, it was already 11 years ago. Actually we met in the local discotheque. We married only after I gave birth to my first child. Well yes, there were some problems. His parents were against our relationship. I knew I was not dear to their soul. Why? I don’t know. One could mention a lot of things.

We moved to Sibiu because we thought that people would forget about it. You know, everybody was talking about us here in the village. I am a tziganka and he is a Romanian. We were also hoping that they would start visiting us. Only his father came once, on his way to Germany he stopped by to talk to his son. He didn?t want to see me, nor the newborn baby.

The whole thing was something about their pride. You know, they have a big name in the village. My husband’s father is not a mayor, but still, they have quite a grand reputation. We were postponing the wedding while waiting for acceptance from the family. Meanwhile we bought a house near my parents, in that "other area" It was a lot of trouble, they didn’t like  it. I wouldn’t like to stay there either. I want a better future for my children. But it was not a bad street, after all I grew up there myself.

Then we had the wedding here in Cristian attended only by my parents and their neighbors. We invited many other people, but they didn’t show up. I’ve seen my mother-in-law through the window, she was peeping in.

We baptized our first child in the presence of my husband’s parents, and when we baptized our second child my parents came. After the birth of my third daughter I had enough and said "If you don’t want to come, stay at home!" This time both grandparents came. Maybe god was arranging things in the way that shortly after his parents left, my parents showed up. It was accidental but most of the times things happened like that.

Practically, in the last 4 years things improved a bit. The family meets on occasions like birthdays, but it always happens at our house, parents never visit each other’s place. The two mother-in-laws started to talk to each other, for example they say hello to each other when they meet on the street.

Well, I am not ashamed of who I am. I don’t want to hide the fact that I’m … But I also don’t want to make a big fuss about it. Well, this is who I am. I have no faults. This is what god gave me. What can I do?  Is my mother-in-law naturally jealous of me? I don’t know. But I can say that her other son is with a woman who was married before, also to a "Romanian of another kind". My mother-in-law complains about her a lot. But still they made a wedding for them. They are closer.

My mother-in-law doesn’t treat everybody the same and my daughters noticed it too. They feel her to be cold and don’t want to go to their place anymore. They were raised more in that "other area", especially the two younger ones.

That’s the story. Maybe one day things might change. I really don’t know.


A fluid identity in continuous negotiation became the main psychological feature of Dana. She used to be a tzigan, but after her marriage she became "a Romanian of another kind". Her three daughters will be Romanians when they are grown up. She sold the house that she had in Dallas and bought one on the left side of the railway – the only place where "one of them" (the Roma) might have a chance to be seen as a decent individual.

Our research team learns that it is hard to define the actual ethnic content of Cristian. Apparently many inhabitants of this Transylvanian village do not possess clear identities. Mircea tells us that the numbers are quite shaky, they depend upon whom you ask. The number of Saxons for example, varies from 20 to 70. Even though these people belong to the very few Saxons remaining in the country, one can say that some of their traditions are still followed, and plenty of Romanian children go to the German-speaking school – it is generally appreciated for being a Saxon school. On the other hand, a recent poll has revealed that only seven people identify themselves as Roma in the community. This is low compared to those estimates that put the number of Roma at 700.

We approach the railway station ready to depart from Cristian with our heads full of questions about identity. "The road is long, deep and wide". Have a nice ride to your next destination! We hope Dana will have a smooth road as well.

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Ioana Bunescu

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