Our hair is our pride

Zdenka SímováLysá nad LabemAugust 2000 This story was told to me by Mrs. Helena Prodanová, a member and employee of the Romany Association in Lysá nad Labem. She was very kind and ready to tell stories in a lively and rich manner. We met in a pleasant atmosphere of the Romany center in Lysá nad Labem, which was built by the Association. The other permanent employee of the center, Mrs. Balogová, was there too and she also told stories.
My daughter went to nursery school. She was three or four then. I had a job in catering. I took my son to a day-care center. I don’t want to boast, but my children were always clean and neat: they had a bath every day. My little girl had long hair, and she wore lady-bird hair clips when I took her to the nursery school. She was never dirty and never wore a stained T-shirt. That was something we were used to in our family. We did that as a matter of course.
My daughter was the only dark child in her nursery school class. But the teachers had no complaints or objections about her, and she loved to play with the other children. You know: some children cry when they have to be there, but she was absolutely content. In fact, she never wanted to leave the large group of children and go home. She had lots of toys at home as well, but she didn’t have so many children to play with there.
One day, the nursery school director and a teacher came to me and said, "Mrs. Prodanová, why do you let your daughter grow long hair? Why don’t you give her a haircut tomorrow?”
I was surprised and said: “Why should I give her a haircut? Does she have lice, is she untidy or uncombed?”
“No, she isn’t but the other girls have short hair and she is the only one with braids.”
“And what’s so bad about that?” They had made me so furious that I was shouting at them: “If she ever gets lice, if she ever comes uncombed and unwashed, then you can ask me to give her a haircut! I can’t see a reason to have her get a haircut!”
This time they were confused, saying that they meant well.
But I simply wouldn’t accept it. I was offended and upset. If she had been untidy, if she had had lice, I wouldn’t have said a single word and would have been ashamed. And you know, white children did get lice in the nursery school.
I checked my daughter’s head every day to make sure she wouldn’t be infected too. And she wasn’t! I was terribly offended that she, of all the children, was asked to have her hair cut.
It’s a tradition of ours to grow long hair. Our father used to say that a woman with short hair is not a woman. Our hair is our pride. My mother had long hair and I used to have my hair down to the waist. I don’t think they wanted to discriminate against my daughter because she’s a Romany, but just because she was just different. Anyway, this was the only incident at the nursery school. Everything before and after that was fine.
It was only in primary school that my daughter got a rough deal, that she was mocked for being a Gypsy. I experienced the same thing as a child. It hurts, but when you grow up you don’t take it so seriously.
But now just imagine this: when my daughter was about sixteen she had her hair cut without me knowing about it! I thought I would tear her to pieces. She and the other girls had just gone crazy and had their hair clipped. Quite close. She looked awful. I could hardly recognize her when she came home.
She’s twenty this year. Her hair is long now and she would never have it cut again.

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