We hope this issue of our Newsletter finds you in good health and good spirits.
We have an exciting issue this month. About a year ago I received a call from a fellow in Stow, Ohio who was kind of amazed that there was actually a society specifically for the Arumani, as he put it. This person is of Aromanian ancestry but had not been in contact with our community until quite recently. The story of how he came to discover his ethnic background is of interest especially since it is typical: Only by attending American schools have most of us learned the real facts of our ethnic identity.
Also in this issue: an essay by Tom J. Winnifrith, the leading scholar of the Vlachs, who discusses the enormous bias to be found in works by Greek, Rumanian, and other Balkan writers concerning our people; and an article by Steve Tegu which continues his informative series on the symbolic and material culture of his home town, Baieasa. Relax and enjoy the reading!
The Wizards of Freiburg
In one of the classics of the American motion picture industry, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her motley crew (the brainless Straw Man, the Tin Man who lacks a heart, and the Cowardly Lion) brave a number of perils in order to find the Wizard of Oz, who they believe can solve all their problems with one wave of his almighty hand. But alas, when they find the old Wizard they discover that he is all smoke and mirrors, living in a world of make-believe and pretending he is a god within it.
Nevertheless, the Wizard redeems himself by displaying not magic but wisdom in the advice he gives the four seekers: that they really already had the very things they sought from him.
There is a tiny handful of Aromanian Wizards in Freiburg, West Germany, who somehow feel that they are in a position to send orders from up high down to the rest of us. They believe they understand the situation of our generation better than we do, and so they pontificate on what we should or should not do in our communities — communities about which they know very little.
There is a simple fact of life we Vlachs of the late 20th century are forced to live with: For whatever reason, our forefathers did not take the time and attention to make our ancient language into a modern one. There are no words in our language for most of the material objects and abstract ideas with which we in the late 20th century come into contact every day. We do not even have an agreed-upon alphabet.
When our generation here and in Greece became interested in our culture again in the 1980s, the language question was one of the key problems we ran into. Though no one has solved this problem, we have kept the issue alive in a series of popular and informative periodicals published in English and Greek — this Newsletter is one of them (we began publication in 1987).
One of our forerunners in Greece, the newspaper Avdhella, began publication in 1984. Hardly a year had passed when the heavens parted and the Wizards of Freiburg pronounced Avdhella guilty of not writing in Aromanian.
The eloquent reply of the folks at Avdhella exposed the Wizards of Freiburg as mere men using smoke and mirrors to maintain a fantasy about the state of our language and culture. But instead of learning something from the experience — instead of showing wisdom by truly understanding the situation of those of us who reside not in magical Oz but in real-life America — the Wizards keep impersonating gods and pretending to give directives.
The latest orders, in a 1988 edition of the Wizards’ own periodical, Zborlu a Nostru (Our Word), chided us, too, for not using more Aromanian. To which we respond, but only this one time, with our position:
1. It is equally a tragedy for us to be Americanized as it is for us to be Hellenized like our compatriots in Greece or for us to be Rumanianized like our counterparts in Freiburg and Rumania. All three constitute assimilation of our own genuine culture to a more dominant culture that is not our own. We may not have much choice in all this. But the one thing we can do is drop any pretense that it is “better” to be Rumanianized than Hellenized more “righteous” to be Americanized than Rumanianized — we are all in the same boat, no one of us any better than the other. Let us drop any pretense and holier-than-thou attitudes. The race for righteousness is over and has been lost by all of us.
2. Like the protagonists of The Wizard of Oz, we have discovered there is nothing really wrong with us, that all along we have had what we thought we lacked: the desire to remain actively involved with our culture. Unfortunately, as things stand, the formal use of our language is not an option for us at the moment, much as we would like it to be.
3. Finally, to echo our com-patriots at Avdhella, we suggest that you include an English translation in your own writings so that we here will be able to understand you.
We don’t intend to bicker. We are facing our linguistic and cultural problems honestly and trying to address them, not pretending they don’t exist. We don’t live in Oz.