Are Eastern Europeans “people of color”? We may be Caucasian, yet are as far away from “white privilege” as indigenous tribes. For the western world, Eastern Europe seems to be a gray blot on the map of the world, with crime-ridden streets and shady people. In popular culture, men are represented as bowl-haircut, gold-chain-wearing idiots, and all women are prostitutes. If that’s not bad enough, very often people from other regions of the world simply don’t know we exist. I can’t even count the times when the reply to my “I am from Bulgaria” was something like “Is that a real country?” In 2019 we live in a world where differences are celebrated and human rights are more important than ever. So why are we still one of the most segregated groups in the world? Why are we constantly looked down upon? Why are talked to, paid, and treated like we deserve less than everyone else? I am sick of it! Our culture is rich and very specific, we are valuable and able members of the world, so we need to finally start acting like it. By launching POEE on Contrabond I want to contribute to this change and if you have something to say on the topic I am all ears! I want to live in a world where people are celebrated for being Eastern European, not shamed for it. Do you?
Every week I receive a newsletter with a collection of calls for submissions from editors. And every week there are at least 10 editors who accept pitches exclusively from POC, Latinas, LGBTQ writers, South Asians, Native Americans, etc. However, never have I ever even heard of an editor who wanted the perspective of an Eastern European writer.
During my travels in Southeast Asia, South America, and Europe, I met countless people from around the world. I always wanted to know more about the respective country, the people’s mentality, way of life, is it popular to travel. In other words – I was curious about their culture. It seems perfectly logical that they would treat me similarly. After all, I come from a region that is not particularly well-known so meeting a local seems like the perfect opportunity to get some insider info. And yet in the predominant number of interactions I had, my logic was immediately reduced to dust.
From the hundreds of people whom I’ve met on the road, a handful were interested in learning more about Bulgaria. Time and again I would have the same deja vu conversation:
“And where are you from?”
Why is hearing the name of my country enough to change the topic? Do “foreigners” know so much about us that they don’t need any more information? My personal, subjective experience had led me to believe that not only do they not know a lot of us, but they also don‘t want to know. Too often we get treated like second-hand people. Is learning about our culture really a waste of time?
Worst of all, we are not proud of ourselves. Although lately there have been more attempts to promote Bulgarian and Eastern European culture, they are still very scarce.
When I was graduating high school, a lot of my classmates were going to go on to study at universities abroad. It’s wonderful to get to know new cultures and be inspired by different educational approaches. What’s not so great is how many people left with a plan to never say they are from Bulgaria. Ashamed by their heritage, they deliberately chose to hide it. But why? Is it because they thought they’d be discriminated against? Or because of the prejudices, they thought their “western” classmates would have? Or perhaps because they didn’t want to get labeled just because of their nationality?
Why are we so willing to conform to outside traditions, rather than endorse our own or two add a splash of our color to international customs?
In the summer of 2018, I was in Norway for their Constitution Day. During that time, there is a festival and everyone, from newborns to the elderly, puts on their national clothing and wears it proudly around town. According to my friend who I visited there, every Norwegian closet houses at least 2 sets of national outfits. Do you know any Bulgarians who have at least one piece of the traditional national clothing? Do you know anything about Bulgarian folk art and art motifs? And more importantly – do you care? Do you want to know more about the heritage of this part of the world?
Around the world, people from various ethnic groups, sexual orientations, etc. come together to defend their interests, support each other, and manage to turn their cultural heritage into something that others look up to. So why don’t we do it too?
These are few of the questions that have been eating at me over the past months. Can you relate to some of them? In the hope that you have something to say about it, or would like to learn more, I created this section of Contrabond. With a bit of luck, it will become a platform where we can discuss and popularize Eastern European culture and make it accessible to more people. I would love for the world to know that we, Eastern Europeans, are more than what we’ve been discriminated for.
I am launching this section to give voice to what it is like to be an Eastern European in the world. I hope that together we can look for the answer to why Eastern European culture and needs are being neglected. Hopefully, this is going to be a space for open discussion, creative ideas, solutions and an opportunity for people who are not Eastern European to relate to our lives. Because POEE (People of Eastern Europe) matter!
If you have any thought on the topic I’d absolutely love to hear them. Wouldn’t it be so great to live in a world where we are celebrated for our heritage, not shamed for it?
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