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Jan Cina: Being Romani is a normal part of my identity, but more important is what I know how to do

22.2.2017 8:01
Jan Cina (Photo:  Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
Jan Cina (Photo: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Journalists have an easy time with him. He is civil, talkative, thoughtful, and for now any affectations of being a "star" haven't touched him yet.

During the first few minutes, interviewing him begins to remind you of having a pleasant talk with somebody whom you've known for years. Jan Cina has also been endowed with a unbelievable combination of talents.

He is a consummate singer, a very serviceable dancer, and as an actor he has performed in almost all genres imaginable during last year alone:  Film, television serials and theatrical productions, including what is probably the first Czech "quality tv" series, "Pustina" (Wasteland), the highly topical Internet series "Semestr", and in fairytales and productions for public broadcast television. He also made an appearance in the television show "Your Face Has a Famous Voice" - although that was more reminiscent of a drag show in a village somewhere.

Cina admits that he hesitated over whether to appear on that program, but finally his desire to dance, sing, and meet the "challenge" of attempting to impersonate adored (or hated) pop stars with a childlike glee got the better of him. He won the competition, of course.

There are two "labels" that could theoretically put the brakes on Cina's victorious ascent in Czech society, however. He is gay, and he is half-Romani.

Cina's long-term relationship with a fellow actor has been playfully chattered about by the Czech tabloids, and it seems that for now he is a darling of theirs - they are willing to "forgive" it as the cute quirk of an otherwise nice young man. While some like his boyishness and speak of his transformation from a "shy guy into a confident gay man", others mention his "small feet" and declare his sexual orientation a mysterious "13th chamber".

The performer will probably now begin to unlock another secret chamber on his own before the public gaze, one that is much more ambiguous. Even though Cina's father is Romani and this has been cautiously spoken of more than once in various articles about him, the next step of his public "coming out" about his Romani identity, in the form of open support for Romani people and Romani projects, awaits him.

"Being Romani is part of my identity that I am gradually perceiving as something that is getting stronger and stronger," he told "I really like some of the projects that are being created for Romani children, mainly Ida Kelarová's singing camps, which I appreciate immensely, I grew up with that music," he explains, adding that in future he would be glad to be involved with such initiatives.

As the kind of Roman person who "doesn't look" Romani, Cina has always been one up on the xenophobic part of society. What will happen when he begins to publicly espouse pro-Romani interests remains to be seen.

Cina has been imbued with his ethnic heritage in an absolutely natural way. While he does not speak Romanes, he recalls from his childhood the "secret language of Grandma and Grandpa" - the epithets they would use among themselves in a language the grandchildren couldn't understand.

He also has a vivid memory of his late uncle, Emil Cina - a significant author whose thoroughbred storytelling would attract children from all over the neighborhood to his hearth, according to his nephew. His own "main topic", however, is neither gayness nor Romani-ness.

"It doesn't seem to me that either of those attributes is what might make me interesting," he told us, emphasizing that these are primarily characteristics that are an absolutely normal component of any human personality. The hope does exist that we might be able to encounter such confident approaches being taken by people here toward their identities even more frequently, despite aspects of them being problematized by society.

Cina, meanwhile, will no doubt make many more films and television serials and perform many theatrical roles. In none of them will he be primarily either gay or Roma, but an exceptionally talented artist who garners deserved attention by what he knows how to do.

In cases such as his - ones where giftedness combines with quick-wittedness and a sense of social responsibility - all we can do is applaud. An extensive interview with Jan Cina (in Czech only) will be available in the March issue of Romano Voďi magazine.

Adéla Gálová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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