Czech Republic: Romani child adopted by a non-Romani family tells his story
Otakar Chládek (age 21) was born in and grew up in the Pardubice Region and holds a certificate as a waiter from the Zámek High School for Crafts, Services and Trades in Žamberk, Czech Republic. He currently is attending a medical course for emergency medical technicians and would like to complete his secondary education after that.
His hobbies including playing the piano and sewing. He was adopted as a six-month-old and until recently had no idea who his biological mother was.
Otakar was raised in a purely Czech family, where he experienced the pleasures and the sorrows of family life, but his desire to know his biological Romani family never left him. He says that while his adopted parents have not prevented his curiosity, they have not promoted it either.
His parents decided to tell him he was adopted when he was three years old and getting ready to begin preschool. "I recall sitting in the living room, Mom took me on her lap, winked at Dad, and began to say that my mother hadn't wanted me, that I was adopted. I guess you could say that I didn't react at all, it was all the same to me, bascially it didn't even make much sense to me what they were saying. I remember Mom was terribly happy, so happy she was crying. Dad pretended to be brave. That was my first recollection of my beloved adopted parents," he says with a smile.
When asked how and why he was adopted, he explains: "I know I am from a family of six children and my real mother had some problems raising my siblings. I have also heard that when she was pregnant with me she got involved in theft and was imprisoned while still pregnant with me. After she gave birth to me, she had to go back behind bars."
Until recently, Otakar had believed his biological mother had given him up because of his biological father. Now he knows that his biological mother "never informed the authorities of the name of my father, so he had no rights to me."
The family accepted me unreservedly, except for Grandpa...
From an early age, Otakar he was aware of his difference. "When I would look through the family photo album, I couldn't help but notice that among the white heads there was one black one - me," he recalls with a chuckle.
As a child he just laughed at this fact, but as he grew up and entered puberty, he began to have the feeling that some faces around him were expressing a dislike of his presence. It was not easy for him at school either, where immediately from first grade he was given the nickname "Ota, black as a boot", which stuck with him until the ninth grade.
His adopted parents and his older, also adopted sister love him unconditionally, and the fact that he is gay did not change their love for him. When asked whether his entire extended adopted family accepted him, his glad expression changes.
"With the cousins everything's ok, and also with my aunts and uncles. The only thing I regret are my relationships with my grandparents on my mother's side. It took Grandma a long time to get used to me and cope with it. Grandpa has never absolutely reconciled himself to me. He lets me know that I am different, and not just because I'm adopted."
Otakar's adopted sister, who is five years older, is not Romani. "They love my sister and have accepted her as their own. I remember that if Grandpa called to say they were going on a trip to a castle somewhere, or to go swimming, then Mom would always whisper into the telephone, so I wouldn't hear, 'I hope you'll take Otakar with you too'."
First encounter with his Romani mother
Otakar moved out of his parents' home rather early. At 18 he became independent and began living with his boyfriend.
It is precisely that life change that played a role in his getting to know his biological family. After arguing with his (now ex-) boyfriend, he found shelter in the home of a Romani woman from Ústí nad Orlicí whom he had gotten to know through the only Romani friend he had.
"As is the custom among Romani people, she began to ask me about my family to see whether she might know them. Because I knew from my birth certificate what my mother's name was, we figured out that she was actually a distant relative of mine and that she knew my mother," he recalls.
Within three days his "new aunt" had managed to organize a meeting with his biological family. On his 20th birthday, he saw his biological mother for the first time.
"At the train station in Pardubice many Romani people whom I didn't know gathered around us. I had imagined my mother to be somebdoy absolutely different than who she turned out to be. She got out of the car and began crying, she grabbed my hand. It was a meeting absolutely without words. It was very emotional on her side, and I was terror-stricken. I could not believe the moment I had waited for so long was happening right then, at that moment," he recalls.
Because they knew it was his 20th birthday, his mother's brother invited everybody to his home. "When I walked in the door, I just froze. There was a big table full of drinks and food. We all sat down and they told me it was to welcome me, for my birthday. It was a big celebration, good Romani food, lots of alcohol, we listened to Romani songs, it was fantastic," he recalls.
What it's like to be among Romani people
As a Romani man who grew up in a Czech family, and as a trained waiter, Otakar can compare how members of each ethnic group behave when it comes to spontaneous entertainment. One week after he met them, his newfound family in Pardubice invited him to a Romani party in Česká Třebova.
"I liked it that I finally fit in somewhere. Whenever I had gone out to have a good time with Czech people, everybody had always stared at me, wondering who I was, what I was wearing, but here I was my own master. I really liked it that we Romani people know how to have a good time. When the music plays, you dance, when you eat, you really eat. It wasn't like a typical Czech disco, where everybody just watches everybody else and is afraid to get on the dance floor. I will be glad if somebody invites me to another such party," he says sincerely.
My Romani family couldn't accept that I am gay and raised by Czechs
Otakar has not seen his biological mother in person since that 20th birthday party. "I have seen her only once so far, but we call each other roughly twice a month. When I tell her that I'm coming to Pardubice and that I would like to see her, maybe during Christmas, she begins to talk her way out of it, she says it can't be in her home because her sons, my brothers, have a problem with the fact that I am gay and that I was raised by a Czech family. I don't want to cause anybody any difficulties," he says.
The topic of same-sex attraction is still a big taboo in Romani families. "I think they saw it immediately," he says of his first meeting with his family, since his boyfriend at the time, who had promised to be there with him when he found his biological family, had accompanied him.
"Mom sat next to me, and at one moment she turned to me and whispered 'That's your boyfriend, right? Don't be afraid, I don't have anything against it.' So she took it in stride," he recalls.
Neither fish nor fowl
"I very much regret that there is a problem with my grandparents, who cannot cope with the fact that I am Romani, and that for my Romani family it's a problem that I'm gay and was raised as a Czech," Otakar laments. "In any event I will be very glad to learn more about Romani culture and customs. It would be even nicer for me to learn about them from my biological mother."
"For me, at this moment, the most important thing is to graduate from secondary school so I can show the majority society that we Roma are capable of graduating and living normally," he says. Currently he is completing a course that will make it possible for him to work in health care.
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