I hope that she’ll be strong enough

Eva RidajovaNove StraseciAugust 2000
We are a Romany family.
Most people in the Czech Republic say that there is no racism or discrimination here. They only say that because they have never experienced it themselves. That’s is why they are puzzled when they hear that Czechs are racists.
I too used to think that I would not encounter any racism or discrimination. But since then I’ve unfortunately had my share as well. Believe me, those of you who haven’t found out for yourselves: it isn’t at all nice. It hurts. But what hurts even more is knowing that the same fate awaits your children.
My oldest daughter Helena is now sixteen. She met discrimination in kindergarten. It was under the old totalitarian regime that she heard the horrible "Nigger, nigger, pitch black nigger” for the first time. Little Helena did not understand why the other children were picking on her.
One day I brought her back from kindergarten, and she went straight to the bathroom. I followed to see what she was up to.
She was sitting on the edge of the bathtub scrubbing her legs with a brush.
“Helenka! What are you doing? “I asked.
“I want to be white like you, Mommy. The children are calling me names.”
When I heard that, all the blood drained from my heart. I could say nothing but, “Oh, you know, children are stupid.”
Some time later my daughter went to the first grade. She wasn’t spared there either. Every so often she told us that she had been called “nigger” by this or that schoolmate.
My husband dealt with it in his own way. He caught the children who called her names, mostly boys, and gave them a proper spanking.
That helped for a while. But all these things took their toll on the little girl: she became silent, and didn’t do well in school. She became peevish and oversensitive.
When she was in the fifth grade her life turned into a hell. She sat in the back row and felt like some black sheep. She silently envied her classmates whenever the teacher chose them to run an errand, to bring something from the staff room. She felt wronged all the time.
In the seventh grade things changed dramatically. That was when I took up my own studies again. Her self-confidence was boosted overnight. Her talkativeness earned her plenty of friends and her teachers’ favor. She became very popular. When she walked in the street the boys would still shout at each other: “Look out! It’s getting dark!” But by now she could retort quietly: “So turn on the light.” She learned to handle their mockery.
In the top grade she became indispensable to all her classmates. They invited her to their birthday parties: no party was complete without her. And her grades improved. Helenka had become a personality.
This year she confided to me that during the last school trip a schoolmate who had also caused her trouble apologized to her: “Helenka, I’m so sorry. I know I was an idiot and I hurt you terribly. Please forgive me: I know now that you’re a super girl!”
Helenka shrugged it off, saying” Oh forget it; that’s long forgotten.” But she could hardly hold back her tears: she was pleased.
This year she finished elementary school. I was there when she was handed her last school report at the town hall. I recorded the event on video.
I was very moved when I saw all Helenka’s teachers and friends saying good-bye to her.
Later when I was rewinding the cassette I had to cry. The whole of my daughter’s life flashed through my head.
When the cassette had been rewound my husband said, “Isn’t our daughter beautiful? I’m really proud of her.”
I just nodded, knowing that our daughter had all her life still before her.
This September she starts the academy for social and legal workers in Prague. She can hardly wait to meet her new schoolmates.
As for me, I am afraid for her. I know that she will still encounter plenty of discrimination.
Helenka comforts me, saying that she is well-armed against it. But I know what I’m saying, and I’m worried for her. But I can only wish her good luck and hope that she’s right: that she’ll be strong enough.

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