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COVER IMAGE: FELIX, AGED 20 “I like to look good. I really like bright colours like yellow, blue and red because they make me feel good. My jeans are from Zara, and my shoes are from Emporio Armani. The belt is Hermes. I like to wear designer things and shiny things. My watch is shiny and stands out. The necklace I’m wearing is real gold – it’s from my dad, who used to wear it when he was a teenager. He still lives in Romania and gave it to me when he came to visit recently. I’m his oldest son, so this means a lot to me.” See page 8.


One of the enduring aims of the Roma MATRIX programme has been to involve Roma-led organisations and Roma individuals at every level of design and delivery of various endeavours and activities. A great example of how this has worked in practice is the mentoring initiative. At the start, all 20 partners were asked to create individual, tailored mentoring schemes either within their own organisation or with a partner – with the intention of transferring skills, providing work experience and connecting Roma people with public institutions. Since then, a wide variety of mentoring projects have been taking place across 10 member states. We at the Universities of Salford and York in the UK wanted to offer the opportunity to a number of people from the local Roma communities to experience higher education and access the kind of facilities and support we often take for granted as part of the student experience. In 2013 we invited two people of Roma heritage who were living in Greater Manchester, Vasile Dumitru and Anina Dumitrache, to be part of our mentoring scheme. The aim was to support each of them to design and deliver a small-scale research project on a topic of interest to them. Both Vasile and Anina had moved to Manchester from Eastern Europe as adolescents and achieved well at school, rapidly gaining employment. Here in this publication you see the development of some of their work whilst engaged on the project. Much of the creative support for this endeavour has been supplied by photographer and journalist Ciara Leeming, who not only

provided the technical guidance but also helped Vasile and Anina to conceptualise their ideas as creative end products. Working alongside Vasile and Anina and reading their research reminds us that one of the most important things anyone working in the field of Roma inclusion must keep at the forefront of their mind is that there are many Roma people across Europe who are succeeding in their chosen paths, be it as lawyers, teachers, social workers or police officers. This is not to minimise the enormous barriers and disadvantage that still exist for many Roma, but one of the most powerful things that we have seen across all the 10 countries involved in MATRIX is the number of well educated, professional, able Roma people in every place we visited. For us, the work you can read about in this publication is the start of a process to encourage more people of Romani heritage to learn about ‘doing research’ – although many already are doing so under their own initiative. This is not just as a route into the academic world, but also provides a powerful skillset to help them, as individuals and as part of a community, to self-represent and articulate their experiences. As the saying goes: ‘Nothing about us, without us’! We would like to thank Vasile and Anina for coming forward to work with us and for offering a glimpse into their lives and experiences. Philip Brown, Peter Dwyer, Philip Martin and Lisa Scullion * For information about Roma MATRIX, visit


“My mum didn’t go to school but she understands the importance of education and pushes us to work hard.”


“I’m 18 years old and from Romania. I moved to the UK with my family in 2010, when I was 14. I went to school in Romania and continued my education in the UK, attending a girls’ high school in Manchester. I was a good student because I didn’t like to behave badly or not listen in the lessons. My favourite subject was maths and back home I had some English lessons – but I didn’t see the point in learning English. Now I know I was wrong to think that, as I had to learn the language after moving here. Life was tough in Romania, and my mum was sick – she had to have one of her kidneys removed. Some of my dad’s friends were living in Britain, in Manchester, and my parents decided to join them. It was really hard in the early days because we all struggled with the language. But our friends helped us settle in and once we kids were going to school we began to learn English. After that we could have conversations with English people and it was easier for us. School was difficult at first, not only because of the language but also because some girls were racist towards me. They would do things like leave a phone on the floor and say: ‘You can steal it because you are from Romania.’ These things hurt a lot and made me cry, but I went to the teachers and they helped me and made me feel better. At that school, even though I didn’t know the language, I was number one in the maths class. That was really good for me as it meant the teachers saw me as a good girl. My mum didn’t go to school when she was young but she understands the importance of education and pushes us to work hard. She tells all her children that you must go to school to become a big woman or big man. Despite not getting the opportunities we have had, she’s keen to learn. She’s trying to learn to read and write at home with me, my brother and sister. I would like to go to university and become a maths teacher – or if that’s not possible, a teacher working with small children. This is my dream, but first I have to finish college. Last year, on the 7th of May, I married Vandam. I’m not ashamed to admit our marriage was arranged because I know it was arranged in a good way and it was the right thing for me. My parents let me think and gave me the opportunity to say no if I didn’t want it. And we had time to get to know each other and decide if we really wanted to marry each other or not. Even though my husband and I didn’t speak a lot the first time we met, after three months we were feeling in love. Our parents were friends but we didn’t know each other until about two years before our wedding. I was living in England at the time but one day when my family was on holiday in Romania we went to his house for a barbecue. The two of us were both so shy that we couldn’t speak to one

another. Later, my parents asked what I thought about that boy – did I like him? They told me that he was also attending school and that could make us a good, educated family. What they didn’t know was that I really liked him already – so I was happy inside of me and agreed to speak to him. I then had time to get to know him – we could decide if we wanted to be together; if we wanted to be married or not. Before this I’d always said I didn’t want to get married until at least 19 or 20 because I wanted to finish my studies. But, when I met Vandam, something inside of me said this was the boy I was meant to be with. I felt really good with him and so accepted to be with him. I talked to my parents about my education and they told me they wanted me to continue, even after getting married and having children. They said this would ensure my family has a good future. My husband was really happy when I told him I wanted to continue studying because he had the same idea in his mind. I knew then that he was the right boy. My mum got married when she was 13 and she had my eldest sister when she was 15. That was the tradition in the past but it’s changing now. My sister is 22 and still single; she’s studying and continuing to work. It’s her personal choice not to get married, just as it was mine to marry. She told me she knows other girls who have rushed into it and some have broken up and married a second time. She wants to wait for the right boy because of that. My husband is a good boy – he doesn’t drink or smoke or use bad words, even if he’s angry. He makes me feel safe because he’s calm with me. We have respect for one another and we tell each other when we don’t like something. Our wedding was really big – a lot of people came to see what was happening because it was unusual for someone from his community to marry a girl from outside. His community is more traditional – they mainly speak the Roma language for example – but my family is from a town and we do some things a bit differently. We speak Romanian at home, rather than Romanes. In the Roma community the girl normally has to move with the boy’s family after the wedding. But my marriage was special and my husband accepted to move with my family to England. This year, just over a year after our wedding, our daughter Damaris was born. Vandam was in the room when I gave birth, along with my mum and husband’s grandmother. Being a mother is a new experience that makes me think more about the future. Now it’s not just about college and work, it’s the baby as well.” * To watch a photofilm on Anina’s story, featuring her images and voice, visit


“I talked to my parents about my education and they told me they wanted me to continue, even after getting married and having children. They said this would ensure my family has a good future. My husband was really happy when I told him I wanted to continue studying because he had the same idea in his mind. I knew then that he was the right boy.�



“I used to dress a bit more traditionally but I have changed my style. If I didn’t then my friends would laugh at me and call me old-fashioned.”


“Men in my community are dressing differently nowadays. Traditionally, back in our town in Romania, men always looked very smart and would wear a lot of colourful clothes – red or pink shirts with their trousers, for example, and sometimes hats, leather jackets and shiny shoes. If you weren’t dressing like that, you weren’t showing respect to the community. That’s how people thought. Some of the older men still dress like that here in Manchester – my father and people of his generation. He’s dressing the same as he always did, but guys under about 30 to 35 are starting to change their style. We’re becoming more casual – more European if you like – and dressing more like non-Roma or English guys. Now it’s all jeans, trainers and designer labels. Back in Romania too the young Roma guys are changing because they travel abroad and use social media and see how others are dressing. It’s a general generational change, not just in the UK. I used to dress a bit more traditionally years ago but I have changed my style as well. If I didn’t then my friends would laugh at me and call me old-fashioned. I rarely wear traditional clothes nowadays – the only time I do is sometimes when I go to church. You’re not trying to impress anyone when you go to church, and you have to show respect. Among the Roma people where I live, it’s the men who follow fashion. The women have to show more respect and in our community they always have to wear long skirts. I notice what other men are wearing, non-Roma friends and people on the street. I like to take ideas from other people. To be honest my family don’t have a good opinion about how we dress. My dad doesn’t understand it at all and thinks my clothes are rubbish. I tell him that it’s not only me who dresses like this and that the style is changing and he tells me I’m mad. When I used to wear some quite slim-fitting jeans he used to say: ‘Get some bigger trousers.’ He told me he’d have been in big trouble if his father – my granddad – had caught him in jeans like that, but they had less freedom than my generation. A lot of my friends have tattoos, which is quite a new trend. A lot of older people don’t like them but the younger people have different ideas. A couple of days ago I told my dad I was thinking about getting a tattoo with my son’s name on it and he said: ‘No, no, no – it’s forever, don’t do it.’ He said he wouldn’t allow me to enter his house if I have a tattoo on my body. That’s the point of view of the older people.”


“How I dress depends on how I feel that day. I like my watch because it’s stylish, it has gold on it. I bought my T-shirt from a market because I liked the design. It has shiny studs on the shoulders. I bought my trainers from a sports shop, they are Firetrap but were only about £15 in the sale.” Maradona, 19.

“My shirt is English style, I think, and the jeans came a bit ripped. My yellow trainers are by Polo, from Ralph Lauren. I think these colours go well together. I change my hair style quite often. In my opinion you have to care what you look like. It’s important to look smart, to show Roma are respectable.” Ionel, 18.

“Normally I wear brighter colours than this. I like clothes a lot and feel better if I’m wearing something good. I dress very differently from my dad, who often wears suits when he’s going out. Sometimes my parents ask ‘what are these clothes?’ but the fashion is changing among younger Roma guys.” Adrian, 18.


“I’m wearing a suit today because I’m going to church to pray – I have to look like a respectable man. The trousers and shoes are blue; I think pink and blue look good together. My dad wears a lot of gold, and likes T-shirts with gold designs on them. My family think I should wear more gold but I don’t want to.” Madalin, 18.

“Today I’m wearing a pink T-shirt from Hugo Boss, some Nike Huarache trainers and a yellow Stone Island jacket. I love to wear very bright colours because they make me feel comfortable. I try to dress in the English style. My trousers are Polo – they are sports style trousers. I buy all my clothes in the UK, from shops in town.” Marius, 19.

“Clothes are important to me because I care about my looks and style. I get fashion ideas from the TV, from Facebook and from seeing people around. My jacket is from Zara and the bag is Gucci. I don’t wear the earring in front of my dad and family as they don’t really like it – I just wear it when I’m out with friends.” Florin, 21.

“The way I dress is not that important to me – I sometimes buy clothes from charity shops. Today I’m wearing a Chinese suit jacket, some jeans, a pair of driving shoes and a gold necklace. My parents don’t mind the way I dress, as long as I look respectful. It’s the personality that counts to them.” Ion, 18.

“I think clothes matter – you have to look nice. My dad and uncles dress a bit differently to me but with time everything is changing. I’m wearing denim shorts today. My trainers are from Firetrap and the bag is from Romania. I have tattoos as well: on my right arm are my sons’ names, Josef and Yanis.” Nicusor, 22.

“Fashion’s not really important to me to be honest and I’m not so bothered about clothes. I just threw these clothes on today because they were there. I don’t always wear dark colours but today everything’s quite dark.” Romeo, 21.

The development of a body of collaborative work which aims to complement two very different projects is something which can only unfold slowly and organically. Over the course of 2014 I regularly met Roma MATRIX mentees Anina Dumitrache and Vasile Dumitru, together with their academic mentors, and listened as their vague early ideas steadily coalesced into fully-formed research proposals. My task was to support them in the development of visual projects which reflected their chosen themes – the changing fashions of young men for Vasile, and women’s experience of marriage for Anina. Such diverse subjects warranted very different stylistic approaches, but both had something in common. While Vasile and Anina happened to be thinking about Roma communities for their research, I wanted this documentary work to draw out the universality of their themes.

All of us, no matter what our background, harbour dreams and ambitions – and many of us care about, and express ourselves, through our appearance. It became clear to me that for Anina a potential approach would be to tell her personal story, a suggestion with which she readily agreed. Using her words – with minimal editing – in this piece allowed her own voice to shine through. Anina also kindly supplied some of her personal photos to help illustrate her story. Portraiture, meanwhile, seemed a fitting approach for a research project about fashion. Vasile and I shot these images together in front of a white backdrop over a number of weeks in a Manchester park, and some of his own supplementary photographs grace this page. Vasile and Anina: Thank you for trusting me and for opening up about your lives. Ciara Leeming


DESIGNED & EDITED BY CIARA LEEMING Images © Vasile Dumitru, Anina Dumitrache & Ciara Leeming PRINTED WITH NEWSPAPER CLUB

This publication has been produced with the financial support of the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship programme of the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission. © Roma MATRIX 2014.

Roma Matrix newspaper