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‘I’m from a tricky Diaspora:’ 2 poems on migrant identity by Romanian-American Cristina A. Bejan

‘I’m from a tricky Diaspora:’ 2 poems on migrant identity by Romanian-American Cristina A. Bejan
Transfăgărășan mountains in Romania. Image: Călin Stan via Unsplash

10 September 2021

Cristina A. Bejan is a Romanian-American poet, historian, and theatre artist based in Denver, Colorado. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and received her BA in Philosophy from Northwestern University, where she also studied theatre. She has held fellowships at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Georgetown University, and the Woodrow Wilson Center, and has taught history at Duke University and the Metropolitan State University of Denver, among others.

As a playwright, Bejan has written 18 plays, many of which have been produced in the United States, Romania, the United Kingdom, and Vanuatu. She is founding executive director of the arts and culture collective Bucharest Inside the Beltway. She has performed her poetry under the stage name “Lady Godiva” across the United States and Romania, getting her start at Washington DC’s Busboys and Poets. Green Horses on the Walls is Bejan’s first book of poetry and her second book after Intellectuals and Fascism in Interwar Romania: The Criterion Association (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

A Tricky Diaspora

I’m from a tricky Diaspora

An assimilate-quick Diaspora

A red lipstick, high heels and skinny perfumed cigarettes Diaspora

The only thing we are known for is not exactly in our history—“Dracula”


Maybe that’s why we say we’re from anywhere than we actually are—“Je suis à


An I can’t actually hear the parental accent Diaspora

A my siblings cannot pronounce our family name correctly Diaspora

A too suspicious and yet too trusting Diaspora

A “Shhh, don’t talk or they will hear you,” Diaspora

A country that you’ve never heard of Diaspora

An “I silently understand eight languages” Diaspora

A no pressure to get married ever Diaspora

A sex is healthy and beautiful Diaspora

An any race is more beautiful than Caucasian Diaspora

Unless you’re a Roma gypsy Diaspora

A politically totally confused Diaspora

A Reagan Realpolitik Diaspora

A “So, you’re telling me healthcare isn’t free?” Diaspora

All education is always on full scholarship Diaspora

A “What, you don’t have at least two graduate degrees?” Diaspora—Dr! Dr! A knowing the world map Diaspora

A spiritual but not religious Diaspora

A never knowing your grandparents Diaspora

A family history so painful that you just never talk about it Diaspora

A rejoicing through tears when your country’s dictator is assassinated


A real appreciation for a pair of blue jeans Diaspora

A not so ancient history of wearing denim on denim Diaspora

A deep understanding of the origins of rock and roll Diaspora

Ce frumoasă ţară e România [What a beautiful country Romania is] Is it?

Dar în SUA avem un viitor [But in the USA we have a future]

You don’t have to be from our Diaspora to have heard that one before.

Under your mattress

Put it under your mattress

The money

The truth

The pain

That’s my Romanian father’s American mantra.

“Cristina, put this 200 dollars under your mattress.

Cristina, don’t tell anyone of the rape, the breakdowns, the sexual harassment.

Just stuff it under your mattress, no one looks there.”

I was told early on not to look in our family’s secret police file

Which was absurd because I was in that Bucharest archive every day anyway

When I told my friends that I was obeying my father’s instructions

Eyebrows raised.

Romanian girlfriends are loyal to family but they also don’t take the bullshit

that American women do.

Cristina, asta înseamnă că trebuie să te uiți.

[Cristina, that means that you

have to look]

I know, I always said.

Under communism there were no banks There was no wealth

Every man and woman were equal Equally destroyed

Equally in fear Equally invisible

But there were ways around the system

As there always are under oppression

Black market ruled

And all the good guys had a prison term as proof of their protest

Don’t talk or they’ll hear you

So Romania was silent

People listening through the walls

Making love to your wife and everyone knows It’s in your secret police file

I’ve read those truths

And the risk that they will raid is always there.

Looking for dissidence

Looking for an excuse to torture

Because frankly everyone is just bored under totalitarianism

Not allowed to go anywhere

Not allowed to choose your job

Not allowed to choose your apartment

So you drink, you smoke and you fuck

Reduced to animals.

Ambition is a no-no.


the ultimate threat.

So the agents burst in

They’ve heard you’ve been keeping a chicken farm illegally on the outskirts

of Galați

You know, saving money Defying the system

Bejans protest of course

“N-avem nimic de ascuns.” [We have nothing to hide]

“Ba da,” Securiștii [“But yes you have,” the Secret Police] bark

As they go straight for the bedroom

And flip your mattress.

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