An interview with Laura Iancu: excerpts

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Laura Iancu is one of the most talented young writers to appear on the Hungarian literary scene in recent years. She was born into a Csángó-Hungarian family in Magyarfalu, in Romania. She attended elementary schools in Magyarfalu in a Romanian language program. She spoke only Csángó-Hungarian dialect until she was 12 years old.

She continued her studies in Csikszereda in a Hungarian school; it was there that she encountered for the first time in her life the limitations of her language skills. In another interview, she admitted crying a lot as a little girl for not being able to understand the language. Thanks to her teachers, she has become one of the most talented young writers of her generation.

She has published four books, two poetry volumes “Pár csángó szó” and “Karmaiból kihullajt” and two volumes of folk tales, the “Aranyréce” and the “Magyarfalusi emlékek”, these last books are compilations from the region of Magyarfalu.

Currently, she is a student of the University of Pécs, working on her doctorate thesis in Anthropology.

She is also one of the editors of the Csángó-Hungarian journal, the “Moldvai Magyarság”.

She is a versatile author, often performing on stage reading from her poems; she also writes political articles and essays on socio-cultural issues.

It is a miracle that you, we, still exist...How do you define your Csángó identity? What does Csángó(ness) used in daily life mean to you? Hungarian? Csángó-Hungarian? Or? Either or?

Whatever place one lives, one has to survive. Everything. Even herself. The nature of the problem is that it goes wherever it is taken. Whoever owns it carries it. I'm a Hungarian born in Magyarfalu. Is it difficult to spell it out this way? There are no Csángós. Being Csángó is a condition.

Nineteenth century Moldavia-Hungarian folklore still uses the universal Hungarian language. Some shortcomings plus the lack of a written form and the Romanian linguistic influence transformed it into a “dead end street” dialect. For me, this is a condition and not an independent language. My Csángó(ness) means that I was born in a region commonly called Csángóland. I do have an identity just as anybody else, but I keep it inside rather than spell it out or write about it.

How many brothers and sisters do you have? Where do they live? What do they do for a living?

I have five brothers and sisters. One lives in London, one in Bako, two in Magyarfalu and two of us in Hungary. All have professions and three of them already have families.

Have you been at home lately?

At Easter, for one week. I go home every two or three months for a longer period of time. The first seven years in life is crucial. Every period has different faces. Each is interesting for different reasons. We had a strict upbringing. We had to look up to our parents and our older brothers and sisters. They pointed towards the sky...Not for themselves. They wanted to make sure that the children look upward. The higher the better. This is a story that can be written endlessly about...because it is already a myth, part of my life. One discourses with it, calms it, interrogates it.

What impressions do you have about Csikszereda. In Budapest, did you have problems fitting in? What were the differences compared to Csikszereda?

Moving from a village into a city and switching from Romanian into Hungarian have left lasting impressions on me. Csikszereda is my second Podu Turcului, if you allow me to say this. It was our choice, we went on our own. We had choices: persevere or become homeless. We could not go back, that's at least what our Romanian teachers told us. Our hard work and the work of our fantastic Hungarian teachers have produced one of the most successful Csángó-Hungarian stories of a generation. In Csikszereda, one could acquire a certain level of linguistic skills, even could have a bit of scientific discourse. However, the transformation into adulthood took place in Budapest. There are lots of people in Budapest with a prehistory like mine. This is a big city with many layers of social organizations; one can, for sure, find a place she can fit in. I don't refer to criminal organizations. I befriended only a few people and I thank them for being there for me. Many used me and mislead me. Life is a school. One can learn even from evil; this story never ends.

Of course, the story has no end; after all our story is a thousand years old, and your story in Budapest is a decade old. Do Csángós keep in touch with each other in Budapest? I think of personal relations, or can we talk about organized contacts? Do you go to “táncház” or community programs where Csángós are expected to go?

I have been living in Budapest since 1997. There is no information about the number of Csángós living in the city. Those studying at the University are well over 130. At the very beginning, we relied on each other, we hung out together. During the fitting in period, one finds local friends. The circle continually gets bigger. There are times when we meet in greater numbers but this doesn't have any formal structure. We meet and talk. The subject, most of the time, is Moldavia-Hungarians. Years ago, I used to go to “táncház”. Today, I have to spend the little time left to me on other things.

According to your opinion, can the Association of Csángó-Hungarians fulfill its mission? Or do they work with whatever they have at hand?

The Association of Csángó-Hungarians is in a difficult situation because the ethnic group it represents is not as forceful and self-conscious as it should be because of the known historical reasons. It doesn't fight for its rights forcefully enough. The opposite is true. One of the difficulties is that the Romanian government doesn't support the Hungarian minority in Moldavia. It seems that the exploration of the basic problems hasn't started yet. My opinion is that the issues could be solved very fast if two or three authorities would get together and focus on the community rather than their own interests. The Csángós, too, would relate to their own ethnicity differently if they would feel they were supported rather than tolerated. There is a risk that the small civic efforts will die one day.

You are a poet, a translator, a community organizer and a Csángó activist, how do these faculties get along with each other?

I'm a unified person. There are those who grow because they're built that way. Growth is hard-coded in us. We are not only individuals but community members too; it is natural that one caresses the community as well. This is not against art or science. The moral and the professional aspects of the issue relates to the method one approaches to things. If one has something/someone inside to discuss issues with, she has a good chance to remain on the middle path

What else do your readers not know about you?

My readers? Do I have readers? I don't know what they know about me, so how should I know what they don't know about me.

During the Communist era, experts talked about the end of decadent poetry. It seems that your poems contradict this prediction. What is your Ars Poetica?

My Ars Poetica is like my life, I have to rebuild it every morning. One thing is sure, poetry can live on without me, but I cannot live without poetry. Poetry is the most important sensory organ of human culture. I don't think that it will ever end.

Did your travelings influence the way you look at the world?

All I've seen has influenced me. The impressions I got in Siberia and France are the most memorable ones. But I am not a traveling type. Perhaps because I have been travelling since I was 12 years old, between Erdély, Moldavia and Hungary. And wherever I am, always homesick. But don't ask me where my home is.

That you are bilingual is an advantage or disadvantage?

Who is bilingual feels neither advantage nor disadvantage. You need talent...In my case, the problem was that I wasn't bilingual but spoke a limited version of two languages—a Hungarian dialect and a Romanian kitchen language. Like everything else, this too has its particularities.

The stage play (Look back with anger) won't apply to you, since you are still too young. What are your plans in your private and professional life?

First and foremost, I am looking for work otherwise, I won't have anything to eat in August. And because I am not that young, I would like to have a baby. I also would like to finish my doctorate thesis. I am working on this and on a new poetry book.

Thank God the story we have been talking about won't come to an end unlike our conversation that we can continue at any time, perhaps, we can pick up another story, something we have learned from Kányádi? Say something that is uniquely yours.

Pointless to know the steps if the sequence is unknown...(Hiába adottak a lépések, ha titkos a sorrend… )

Thank you for your time.

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marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


dissertation example said...

I shall not purchase a cup of ice from him!

tunde said...

Laura, your think so profoundly, thanks for your story. Love the innocence, purity of the song lyrics from Moldova!

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