Photographer Chad Evans Wyatt, shocked by how Roma were portrayed in the Czech media, decided to find Roma who defied the stereotypes and present a different portrait.
The Star | By NICHOLAS KEUNG Immigration reporter
While doing a photo shoot for artists in the Czech Republic in 2001, Washington D.C.-based photographer Chad Evans Wyattwas shocked to see how Roma were portrayed in the media there.
Wyatt isn’t Roma; he’s of wildly mixed heritage, with a black father. But having grown up during the U.S. civil rights movement, he was upset by the racial stereotyping the Roma were experiencing even in the 21st century — deemed stupid and prone to thievery because they had small heads.
“I have heard that before. My anger over how a fellow ethnic group was trivialized just grew,” recalled Wyatt, 67, who was born in New York City and grew up partially in Paris. “Is it true,” he wondered, “that there are no Roma doctors, lawyers, bankers and insurance agents?”
Through Czech acquaintances, Wyatt hunted down Czech Roma who had defied stereotypes and barriers and made it into the professional and middle class.
Over three years and eight trips, he connected with more than 100 Czech Roma, producing a 16-by-20-inch black and white portrait of each.
During a four-day whirlwind visit to Toronto over a weekend, Wyatt photographed 26 Roma in the GTA to compile the week-long exhibit, which ends Sunday.
Among his subjects are a paramedic, law student, jazz musician, art teacher at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, a filmmaker and owners of construction companies.
Unlike the subjects he photographed in the Czech Republic and Poland, Wyatt said those in the Toronto collection come from diverse backgrounds, Roma hailing from a broad swath of Eastern Europe: Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Macedonia.
Some of them, like Hamilton culinary chef Ladislav Lukacs, came to Canada as refugees.
“I am so grateful that my future family, my grandchildren, will never experience the same hate, racism, and intolerance that we have experienced,” Lukacs wrote in the profile under his portrait.
The 52-year-old man arrived here in 2008 and was recently granted asylum. He now coaches with the FC Bohemians soccer team.
Wyatt said it is important for both Roma and non-Roma to see these role models in the community.
“Collectively, they are the basis for optimism, and for an emergence from the troubled past,” said Wyatt, whose next stop is Hungary.
Wyatt’s portraits, along with biographies of each of the Toronto subjects, will be compiled into an educational booklet as part of a hate-crime prevention program — a joint project among Toronto Police Services, St. Christopher House and Toronto’s Roma Community Centre (RCC).
“Hopefully, these images can help debunk, defy and deconstruct stereotypes about the Roma people, so people can see the community in a different light than as bogus refugees trying to take advantage of the system,” said Gina Csanyi-Robah of the RCC, a second-generation Roma Canadian.