Roma children from three Parkdale schools celebrate their culture in song and dance.
thestar.com | By JOE FIORITO
Erika Pintyo is a child and youth worker at Parkdale Collegiate. She invited me to the school recently, to attend a Roma Day assembly.
I went because Parkdale Collegiate is at the forefront of inner-city multiculturalism: some of the ESL teachers, on their own initiative, are learning Hungarian in order to help the Roma kids.
There is also an enrichment program in the school meant specifically for the Roma students, many of whom were discouraged from attending school in Hungary.
Erika, in the spirit of the day, was wearing a silk shirt and a long slim flowered skirt with a shawl around her waist. I asked her the purpose of the assembly. She said, “It’s to help build student integration.”
Here’s why I like Parkdale:
Students from the nearby grade schools also came to the assembly. Sandra DeAngelis-Mullin — her name speaks to a certain kind of multiculturalism — accompanied a group from Parkdale Public School, not all of whom were Roma. She said, “There are 20 kids, 18 dancers and two musicians. The Roma taught the others to dance.”
She also said, “The purpose of this is to bring them together, so there’s more understanding about why they’re here, and to get them together outside of class so they’ll make friends.” Is it working? “We had a talent show a while ago. They danced separately at first; now they’ve come together.”
I took a front-row seat beside Laszlo Sarkozi, of the Roma Community Centre. He said, “The kids celebrate our culture, our language, our customs; they like to sing, they like to play instruments, it’s in our blood.”
Until a couple of years ago, Laszlo was working for Roma rights in Hungary. Why did he come here? “I was attacked 20 or 30 times in the last few years. It was more serious near the end; the last time, they had knives and guns; lots of times, it was only fists.”
I asked if he worried that he, and some of the Roma kids who are here as refugees, might be sent back to Hungary. “Yes, I am worried. They will face the same discrimination if they go back, maybe worse.”
And then the performers trooped into the auditorium, and where there had been a low hum of anticipatory chatter, now there was pandemonium.
The introductions were in English and Hungarian, the kids in the audience were of all races and cultures, and the opening remarks were pointed: “The Roma are the world’s largest minority in dozens of countries where violence is frequently ignored.” There was silence, and then applause. “Roma children are often ignored by schools; Roma people have fewer opportunities.”
Which, of course, is why they are here.
The first performers were from Queen Victoria Public School. They took the stage to boisterous cheers, and their dancing was tip-toed and light-footed, their steps were twice as fast as the music, and each kid took a swirling turn in front of the others.
In addition to the singing and dancing and art, there was an annotated slide show: Roma kids had taken pictures of the neighbourhood, and they talked about what it means to be in Canada; no, in Parkdale. One said: “Here we are not discriminated because we are different.”
Best part of the assembly? A boy with a brush cut, dancing like a little lord of the universe. He is eager to go to high school. The high school is eager to have him.
More opportunity here.
Late note: Gina Csanyi-Robah, of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre, spoke to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa last night. Her message? “We are not a community of collective criminals, we are a group that’s trying to integrate into Canadian society.”