I am truly honored to be included in this article by Jessica Reidy (a Romani American writer), “Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading,” published on VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts. The article was written in celebration of June being Roma and Traveller History Month and includes a wonderful academic description, as well as a great list of writers to check out, including living authors such as Irena Eliášová, Caren Gussoff, Nadia Hava-Robbins, Sterna Weltz-Zigler, Margita Reiznerová, Paola Schöpf, Oksana Marafioti, Cecilia Woloch, Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă, Mariella Mehr, Louise Doughty, Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić, and Philomena Franz.
Here is an excerpt from Reidy’s article, but be sure to check out the entire piece:
Many Roma today are assimilated– some because they have the financial ability to hide their ethnicity, and others because the culture was dampened long ago by genocide or political tragedy. Some lose entire veins of Romanipen (The Gypsy Ways), from dress toreligion, in an effort to fit in unnoticed, while others quietly preserve their heritage in the privacy of their own homes. Either way, most are secret-keepers, hiding their heritage for fear of losing their jobs, rights, and safety. In the wake of this silence, we are bombarded by Romani and Traveller misrepresentation in the media. Mainly, we get the stereotype archetypes: the Sexy Gypsy, The Magical Gypsy, and the Criminal Gypsy.
More recently, we have reality TV nonsense that, as a friend puts it, “is a cross betweenThe Jersey Shore and My Super Sweet Sixteen” that’s trying to pass itself off as a cultural documentary. When my grandmother saw My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding for the first time, she called me and laughed. “But these aren’t Gypsies! That’s not how we are. Those girls are something else.” Then she grew quiet. “Who are those people?” she asked. Before I could answer, she asked another question that made my breath heavy. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a community. Is that how Gypsies are now?” My grandmother fled post WWII Germany fifty years ago and settled in New Hampshire, without her family, after half of Europe’s Romani population was extinguished in the Holocaust. I shouldn’t have had to reassure her that it was yet another misrepresentation of her culture, but assimilation, exile, and secrecy alienates a person from her own blood, especially when the dominant culture insists on fictionalizing its minorities.
This is why the Romani arts scene is so important. It’s more than cultural enrichment; it’s necessary representation to educate outsiders, to connect the disconnected, and to voice the unheard. The majority of the real Roma and Travellers in the media are in the news. If they aren’t victims of racist reporting, then they are victims of wildly racist politicians or severe poverty. There are images of Roma pushed into slums by the government, living barefoot in cobbled-together shacks with no running water, electricity, or sanitation. These news articles revealing spotlighting poverty and victimization are important, essential even to our fight for human rights world-wide, but the representation is imbalanced. There are no real popular culture touchstones of ‘Gypsyness’ that Roma and Travellers can point to and say, “See, we’re like that. That’s so Gypsy.”
I often meet grown men and women who are shocked that ‘Gypsies’ are not fantasy creatures of the mermaid and unicorn ilk. This is why I’m nervous to tell new people about my heritage lest they think it’s cool to tell me about the one time they went to Europe and were scared out of their wits by their tour guide’s warnings of “Gypsy thieves,” which, as far as the tour guide is concerned, is a redundant phrase. But this is the age ofOpre Roma (Roma rising up), and with this surge of Romani professionals, writers, and artists, things are surely changing.