A Letter to the Editor
Living as an American of Macedonian descent for 52 years may not be considered by some as a scholarly approach for my response, but it is the source of my reactions and I would like to share my opinion with you.
My parents may have been new to this country, but that never meant they did not know who they were or where they had come from. I never heard them refer to themselves as Aromanian. Nor, do I recall any reference to political implications associated with our being Macedonian…[indeed,] it would be difficult to make politics without a nation state. But, it never mattered that Macedonia no longer existed. What was important was that it had been, and with boundaries that boggle the imagination. My parents passed their Macedonian legacy on to me and I in turn passed it on to my son. I suspect that he will see fit to keep up the momentum.
The trustee of this legacy has always been easy to identify with. Whenever I mention Alexander the Great as the link to my identity I am warmed by the responses I receive and the interesting conversations that ensue because of this connection. …My family, my first language, my ancestry will always be Macedonian.
…[In the last issue, Nicholas Balamaci and Beverlee Fatse Dacey’s] articles read like a mandate — henceforth we would be known as Aromanians. There’s a great deal I don’t like about the word Aromanian…First, glanced at quickly Aromanian can be mistaken for Armenian…Secondly, Aromanian immediately brings to mind words like amoral, asexual, amorphous, all words whose prefixes denote without. We are…never a people without.
Nicholas refers to a poem that he thinks to be very harsh. He says — “however appropriate it may have seemed 100 years ago, [it] has an extremely discomforting ring to it in this day and age.” There are a host of things from yesteryear that are discomforting today, but do we just wipe out what was because it no longer fits? What happens ten years hence when someone else decides we should reinstate what we threw out? The new always replaces the old, but…replacements are not meant to obliterate the old. Surely, we all know that poets use few and therefore exaggerated words to drive home glorious points. Dimandare Parinteasca does not repel, rather it enlightens me. It reveals the author’s plight, his passions and his fears — fears that still exist today. Its message is simple…[and] timeless. Take away a people’s language and you take from them their voice…
Without people languages do not exist and without language we could not exquisitely convey our feelings and ideas. It is only when we speak that we give shape to who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. One hundred years from now there will surely be people attempting to refute how we came to be, but because Macedonia once was they will be unable to deny that we had been. Future generations, however will not have difficulty defining Macedonia and Macedonian. Both words are housed and living quite comfortably in our dictionaries and I think that they will still be there long after we are not.
And A Reply:
There are two ways of learning about our people: formally (though books and school), and informally (through cultural transmission from our forefathers). We all have informal knowledge about our people; as we become assimilated, we will need to turn more and more to formal sources of knowledge. Whether we like it or not, when we go to a library or record store in Greece, we must look under the words Vlachoi or Koutsovlachoi; in Rumania, under Macedoromani or Aromani; in America, under Vlachs or Aromanians. The editorial preference is for “Aromanians,” as “Vlachs” is felt by some to be derogatory. We did not even consider “Macedonians,” as no one has ever formally used that word to describe us–it is an expression that arose only amongst some of our people who had come to America from the region of Macedonia, and for them it was akin to saying “I am a New Englander,” i.e., that is where my town was located. Here are just a few of the reasons we prefer “Aromanians”:
h Arumani is our self-designation (except towards Albania, where it is pronounced Ramani), and in English it is “Aromanians.”
h The Rumanians, who have a similar self-designation (Rumani), sometimes call us Macedoromani to distinguish us from them, but we have never called ourselves Macedoromani (nor Macedoni nor “Macedonians” nor any version of that word).
h Our people are found (throughout our history) not just in Macedonia but in Epirus, Thessaly, Thrace, and other areas.
h No Western historian has accused us of being descended from the ancient Macedonians (who historians now agree were Greek; see, for example, J.R.Hamilton’s Alexander the Great). Time and time again these impartial researchers indicate that we are Romanized Thracians and Illyrians, not Macedonians.
h There are only three peoples who have used the self designation “Macedonians”: the ancient Greek Macedonians; the modern Greek residents of Greek Macedonia; and the modern Slavic residents of Yugoslavian Macedonia. Further, we will never be able to “discard” Parinteasca Dimandare, even if we wanted to. It is there, a part of our history, and will always be. We only object to its use as a focal point for our culture, because it is essentially a series of horrible curses on any of our children who do not speak Aromanian. Most of our children do not speak Aromanian, and moreover, if we wish to get them to do so, reciting a series of curses on them in a language they don’t understand anyway does not seem the best way to go about it; we’d rather explore other avenues. Things are not venerable just because they are old; cultures constantly choose what to keep and what not to, or else when you went to work every day you would hop on a donkey, not a train, and you would wear your native costume and a sarka, too.
Finally, our writers and readers can use any term they like; we do not even use “Aromanians” amongst ourselves, only in formal discourse. “Macedonian” may be a hit at cocktail parties, but at the New York Public Library we are Aromanians. Good luck in your researches under “Macedonia”; you will find a lot of information about Slavs and Greeks, but very little about our people.