I’m growing increasingly anxious about conducting my first ever Oral History interview. In fact, my feelings are best described as apprehension and fear. There is so much to prepare, consider and remember.
I’m concerned that language might be a problem. My interviewee has warned me that his grasp of English is basic and that he might have some trouble communicating with me. It’s something that is constantly in the back of mind as I prepare my questions. I have been doing some reading about the importance of language to identity and I’m hoping the barrier won’t mark me out as too much of an ‘outsider’. I’m also aware that I am being invited into someone’s home, someone who lives by different cultural norms, and I need to respect those throughout. I do not want to cause offense unwittingly.
From a practical point of view, I’m worried about not being able to use the equipment properly and messing up the recording. I’m not going to dwell on that point. As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
This week the Home Secretary promised yet again to “get tough” on immigration. Theresa May’s Bill is designed to reassure a public who are warned daily, by the press, of an impending ‘invasion’ of Roma migrants to the UK. It’s a well-rehearsed dialogue that has been at the forefront of political debate since the E.U. opened its internal borders in the late 1990s. More than 15 years on, the script remains the same. We hear from the press. We hear from Government ministers. Occasionally, a few members of the British public are asked to give their thoughts. But, where are the Roma? Their’s is the ‘hidden voice’ in this debate and that is why I’ve chosen to interview a member of the Roma community in the UK for my Oral History task.
I hope it will give me a glimpse beneath the stereotypical image. Why have they chosen to come to the UK? How did they travel here? And, how long did they intend to stay? Many of the older generation experienced life under Communism and persecution after it. Their stories have not been told because their countries denied them citizenship and forced them to move on. Where is home for them now?
I would like to explore the question of identity, including its public denial by some Roma. Also, how, and if, that sense of identity survives attempts to assimilate and integrate them into a new host country.
The average Roma lives to just 50 years of age so it is important to capture their memories now before the voice of the late Twentieth Century Roma is lost forever.