gipsylife: (Default)
The Romani people (aka, 'Gypsies') seem to be endlessly fascinating to outsiders. It's unfortunate that this fascination does not extend to philanthropy, awareness, education and actual respect, something we seem to be denied as a people, time and time again. It's much more fun to perpetuate the stereotypes than to talk about the dreary truth. Even so, I would have expected more from Cirque Du Soleil, and especially, TLC ('The Learning Channel').

Apparently, according to Cirque Du Soleil, we Gypsies live in "a captivating forest inhabited by whimsical and enchanted creatures". At least, according to their website advertising their newest show, 'Varekai'. For those not familiar, the word 'varekai' means "wherever". They claim the show is "an acrobatic tribute to the nomadic soul".

Needless to say, as a Romani American, I am disgusted with Cirque Du Soleil's blatant misappropriation of my people and our culture. What they claim is a celebration of nomadic life is actually an insult to a race that has suffered years and years of persecution (hence the 'nomadic lifestyle'). Contrary to popular belief, the Romany people did not choose to move from place to place out of some invented, inherent 'free spiritedness' - they had no choice. They were forced out of every place and every country they went. Our "nomadic soul(s)" (as they call it) were not welcome anywhere, and still to this day have no proper homeland, and are considered Europe's largest (and most hated) minority group. It sickens me that this kind of nonsense can be called 'art'.

It has also come to my attention that TLC has decided to do a series on gypsies (which in this instance includes both Irish Travellers and Romani people). One might assume that since 'TLC' is an acronym for 'The Learning Channel' that such a show would be presented in an unbiased, fair and intellectually based manner. Sadly, they have chosen to go another way, and have titled this series 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding'. It is, as The New Republic so appropriately called it, 'A Big Fat Disgrace'. While TLC bills the show as "a visually arresting portrait of the secretive, extravagant, and surprising world of gypsies", many actual Romani people are appalled by the show and the way it portrays our people. As reported in the article linked above, watching the show prompted many hateful comments on Twitter, with one person tweeting "I now understand why all of Europe hates gypsys [sic]." The fact that a network like Discovery (that many people have come to love and respect for their candid, intelligent programs) would air something like this is disappointing, to say the least.

Sadly, these are only a few examples of how everyone wants a piece of the fantastical, magical, mysterious 'gypsy', and they are willing to sacrifice their integrity to get it.



gipsylife: (Default)

Today I want to talk about the things people take for granted. In America (and in other parts of the world) one of the main things we take for granted is our freedom. Freedom to have our own opinions and voice them as we wish, to move about as we wish and to change those opinions and destinations at a moment’s notice if we choose. This very sort of freedom is discussed by Kerstin Martin in her most recent blog at gipsylife.com – in fact, this particular post, entitled ‘The Year of Staying Put‘ gives us a prime example of a freedom the Romani (and other indigenous peoples) have been denied for centuries – the ability, or the choice, to simply stay put.

Kerstin writes about how a fear of flying in bad weather led to her canceling a flight to Germany, and about how an injured ankle further hampered plans to take a European vacation. She writes about how, instead, she and her husband decided to take a vacation at home and spent the week relaxing in the apartment they had just purchased. Anyone with an inkling of knowledge about Romani history can easily pick out the many privileges listed here that she has taken for granted. Let’s start, however, with something even those who don’t have money for (repeated) lavish European vacations might find unsettling… losing the roof over your own head for no other reason that the fact that you’re a Gypsy. And, just for added ‘fun’, we’ll only go back a few years instead of a few hundred (because, unfortunately, when you’re a Gypsy, it doesn’t matter much as the situation has remained dire throughout history). Here’s another example, and sadly, yet another… and, if that’s not enough, there’s more. It’s happening in Italy as well. To quote the good folks at Amnesty International, “Forced evictions are cruel, humiliating and in breach of international law. In Europe, they happen all too often and affect those who are least able to resist. Romani people are one such easy target; they are poor, socially excluded, and treated with hostility by the public. This is why governments are able to forcibly evict them and show little regard for their human rights. It is time to end this injustice.”

As you can see, these examples are from 2008 through today. We aren’t speaking of ancient history, but modern times. Imagine for a moment that your home, your sanctuary, is just… taken. Ripped away from you, and you have no legal rights, no police or lawyers to call, no housing authority that can help you. Imagine, also, that this isn’t because you’ve missed a few mortgage payments, defaulted on your home loan or failed to mow the lawn one too many times. No, it’s simply because of your race, something you were born with and something over which you have zero control. For these people, who live the actual ‘gipsy life’, vacations don’t exist and having a roof over your head or a place to call home is never guaranteed.

Now, we’ll go further into this idea of choice… the choice to take a vacation (nevermind the money necessary to do so) or move about as one pleases. This is not something the Romani have ever enjoyed. They are forced to live on the outskirts of society and then deemed ‘antisocial’. They are forcibly segregated and then further punished because they ‘don’t fit in’. They are denied access to basic education and the most menial of jobs or employment and then ostracized because they are ‘criminals’. Let me ask you this… if your children were starving, would you ‘beg, steal or borrow’ in order to make sure they survived? But, I’m getting off track…

Choice is a thing the Romani have never been offered, whether it was the choice to move about (or stay put), or in some cases even the choice to live or die. Choice is not a part of their lives. Kerstin adds insult to injury with blogs like this, about her very privileged lifestyle and the choices she is afforded as an upper middle-class, white American woman under the blog title ‘gipsylife‘. In situations like these, I wish her nothing but what she asks for… I wish her a Gypsy’s life. My guess is, she’ll be begging for a different kind of life real quick.


 

gipsylife: (Default)

There are days when I almost wish I didn't know my ethnic background, or better yet, that history had been kinder to my people. The racism, violence and persecution my people have faced is not unique to the Romani. Like the African American people, we've been slaves and we've never received any sort of reparations for what has been stolen from us, (of a monetary nature or otherwise). We suffered along side the Jews in the Holocaust, and were slaves here in America during the colonial period. The past is the past, as one might say, and I realize that none of that can be erased or changed, but to not even be acknowledged as a proper race in modern American society? I really don't think that's too much to ask, is it?

As the article linked above states, we are what is commonly known as the 'invisible minority' here in America. You may ask yourself what exactly that means... some may be tempted to believe that we've earned this title because there aren't very many of us, but there are more than 1 million Romani Americans, (likely much more, as no accurate census has ever been taken, or ever could be since many Romani families left their ethnicity behind when they fled Europe to come to America - I have encountered grown men in their late 20's and early 30's that were told their entire childhood that they were Greek, Persian or Spanish, only to find out they were actually Romani). As this article states "unlike the situation in Europe, where Gypsies are much in evidence, Romani in the United States have been called the 'hidden Americans' because they remain by choice largely invisible. There are two reasons for this: first, the United States is made up of minority groups of all complexions, and so it is easy for Gypsies to present themselves as American Indians, Hispanics, or southern Europeans, and they usually do this rather than identify themselves as Gypsies. Second, most Americans know very little about actual Romani but a great deal about the Hollywood "gypsy" (with a small "g"), and since people fitting the romantic gypsy image are not actually encountered in real life, the real population goes unnoticed."

There is more to this story than just raising awareness, however. I have learned as I have spoken with people and tried to change these perceptions that while many people are horrified when they learn that the word 'gypsy' is a racial slur or that the word 'gipped' isn't as harmless as they've been led to believe, or that the Romani people have suffered for generations and still suffer today, from hate crimes, death threats, segregation and persecution because of their race there are others for whom the fantasy of what a 'gypsy' is has such a strong pull that even this newfound awareness doesn't deter them. They see it as 'harmless' to continue to perpetuate a stereotype, and fail to recognize or care that in doing so they only make us that much more invisible by ignoring and hiding the truth.

There's an old saying, "the truth hurts", and in this case, it's accurate. The truth about the lives Romani people have been forced to lead is not a glamorous one. It isn't all tambourines, fortune telling and magic spells. In fact, Romani history is quite depressing. While it may be easy for the western world to ignore all of that and just concentrate on the fantasy, it does irreparable damage to the cause of raising awareness, and without awareness, the prejudice and persecution of our people will never end.

I have been told by some who refuse to let go of their perception of gypsies that western culture has formed a 'new meaning' to the word and that the Romani people need to recognize that. What these people do not realize is that it is just as offensive, if not more so, when it is used in this manner, because their usage of it like this (to signify a lifestyle) essentially discounts all the suffering attached to the word. That is what I mean when I say that these folks do not have the right to say whether or not that word is offensive - they claim they have only 'positive feelings' about the word and towards my people, yet they needn't be calling me a 'filthy gypsy' in order for the word to be offensive. It's offensive because they use it to refer to a lifestyle, instead of a race of people.

Some have said that these sorts of generalizations and 'positive stereotypes' are harmless. I can assure you this is not the case. When someone searches for that word on the internet, they should be coming up with sites which show them the truth. Instead, they get blogs like gipsylife.com or gypsygirlsguide.com, Halloween costumes, people on eBay and etsy using that word to sell "spells" and "charms" and other such nonsense, bellydance troups who aren't even Romani (but have zero issue with using that word and even our own language in their names), Disney characters, fairytales, and other such rubbish.

Unfortunately, these people have 'decided' they want to use the word to signify something else, but it is never truly separated from the Romani people. Just because the word has come to mean something else in their minds (and, for the record, that meaning was assigned by people who are outsiders to the culture and have no business taking that word and making it mean whatever they wish as it isn't their word to take... have THEY suffered for it? NO.) that doesn't make it right.

It may sound outlandish to make this comparison, but imagine if I decided I was going to dress up as a German, and this is the costume I chose:


I imagine I'd have many German people rather angry with me, ready to knock down my door with protests and explanations about how not all Germans are like that (and they would be right). If my response was simply that I meant no offense but I liked the costume and was going to portray their race any way I chose to, I think they might take issue with that. You may think that example is ridiculous, but when you erase the image of the fantasy 'gypsy' and put the Romani people in its place, you may come to understand where that line is. It's not my place to make the word 'German' mean whatever I please, any more than it is for others to make 'gypsy' mean something else than its true meaning. That word has been tied to the Romani people from the beginning, hundreds and hundreds of years, and it isn't going to change just because some white folks want to play Disney Princess on the internet. It will always be tied to us, and it will always have blood on it... and, it takes more than white people wanting to believe the fantasy to erase the reality.


gipsylife: (Default)
Much of this blog has been about inappropriate use of the word ‘gypsy/gipsy’ in popular culture. Two examples of this would be Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com and Alessandra Cave of gypsygirlsguide.com. In personal communication with each of these women, they have shown no compassion, no respect and no ability to understand why what they’re doing might be offensive. They both seem to feel that they have every right to use that term, in any way they please. I’d ask again if either of them would feel the same if it was the word ‘nigger’, ‘spic’ or ‘kike’, but neither of them seem to get that reference, or the fact that they’re blogging under a racial slur.


Take Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com, for example. Although several months ago (after much discussion) she admitted it was offensive and took the site down, she has now began using it again, and claims she has every right to use the word ‘gypsy/gipsy’ any way she sees fit.

In an email response to me, Kerstin states that “unlike other slurs - the word gypsy has evolved” and that “it is an undisputable fact that as a Romani who associates a racial slur with the word [I am] outnumbered by many others who have more positive and light-hearted associations. This is just the way it is.” She further goes on to state that “harassing and threatening people like [her] is definitely not the way to go about changing this”.

Well, Kerstin, here’s what you don’t understand… “changing this”, as you put it, is really in the hands of people like you… until outsiders to our culture can understand why these things are offensive (and stop using them!) it won’t ever change. It is because of that fact that I continue to use my voice in opposition to such practices, and I will continue to protest your blog, gipsylife.com as long as it remains.

In reality, there are at least 1 million Romani Americans, (and many, many millions not officially accounted for on census records and the like) so I am not as alone as she seems to believe. That is her ignorance talking, trying to justify her actions. The fact that people like Kerstin have taken (what she herself has admitted to knowing is) a racial slur and turned it into some fantasy for her to hide behind does not make it right. In fact, Kerstin, of all people, should be especially ashamed because she DOES know Romani history, from a European perspective. She should know better.

Kerstin thinks I am “bullying” her, and says that she acknowledges that the word “gypsy/gipsy” is a slur in my culture, but in her culture it isn’t. That’s an outright lie, as Kerstin has personally told me that she is of German descent, and was born and raised in Germany, the same place where the Holocaust originated, where Gypsies (along side the Jews) were rounded up and systematically exterminated because of their race. Maybe the word isn’t the same (‘zigeuner’ is the German word for ‘gypsy/gipsy’, not near as fantastical and pretty, but neither is the reality for Gypsies in Germany at that time) but she is well aware of the racial connotations of the word.

She claims that I need to understand “her side”. The problem is, she doesn’t seem to understand that she doesn’t have a ‘side’. In all honesty, if I were Kerstin, I would be questioning why she needs the word ‘gipsy’ at all. What is it about herself that is not enough that she has to take from another culture? She has said herself that she has been called a ‘gypsy’ (again, erroneously) because she move around a lot… this is a stereotype in and of itself about my people, a stereotype which only serves to hide the truth which is that Gypsies didn’t move out of choice, as she has done… they moved because they were forced to. The very fact that she has assumed this word or this identity under false pretenses is an insult to every Romani person. The fact that she is (and has always been) able to move about as she chooses, from country to country, is such a contradiction to the truth that it’s an insult. People who need to take from other people’s cultures (and especially one so downtrodden and persecuted) are missing something within themselves. I hope she finds it, so she can stop stealing from mine.

I previously had the impression that she was an intelligent, compassionate person. I deeply question that now as she is putting her own selfish desires to hang on to the ‘magical’, erroneous connotation to this word over taking the high road and acknowledging that what she is doing is insensitive and wrong, to understand that as an outsider to our culture she has no right to tell me what is and is not offensive. Saying that, essentially, “everybody else does it” is a terrible justification for insulting an entire culture.

The fact that she believes I am ‘bullying’ her by posting the truth in my blog proves that she isn’t getting what I am saying or where I am coming from at all. I have no desire to ‘fight’ anyone. If I fight, it is a fight to be heard, a fight to be recognized, as a group and as a people, not as an individual. There is no personal gain here. I get no enjoyment out of this, but I feel it is necessary and I feel I owe a debt to my ancestors who suffered, to speak out. I could easily sit back on my couch and not pay it any mind, but the very fact that I *CAN* do those things, that I even have that choice at all, is why I cannot turn my back.

So, in closing I say to Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com, to Alessandra Cave of gypsygirlsguide.com, to all the hippies and teeny boppers that dress up like us for Halloween, you may never understand what it is like to see things like ‘Gypsy Machine’ in the craft store, or blogs and sites like yours, or a million other little things on a daily basis that reference your culture. You may never see why this new ‘use’ of the word doesn’t erase the past. You may never comprehend what it is like to HAVE to speak out, simply because you CAN, and you know that others of your race do not have that privilege. I can’t make you understand these things. I can only hope that you can put your own nonsensical attachment to what is still today a very loaded, racial term outside of this country aside and try to be compassionate. What’s at stake for my people is much more than what is at stake for you.


gipsylife: (Default)
I received the following email from Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com in response to a blog I wrote about her. She says:

_______________________________________________________________

A friend just sent me this link that they came across...

I was surprised at this. I don't see you do this to anyone else out there who is using the term "gypsy" in their blog (for instance gypsygirlguide.com who is pretty much creating a brand out of it - much more than I ever did, I never used the word in reference to the carefree bohemian lifestyle).

Since I am one of the very few who respected your standpoint I would appreciate if you could remove any reference to my name in this and other articles that may be out there.

Thank you very much!

Kerstin
kcpa@mac.com

_______________________________________________________________


I would be more than happy to comply with her request, except that unfortunately she has decided to resume blogging under the 'gipsylife.com' URL. She did, for a brief time, switch over to kerstinmartin.com and seemed to understand why it was offensive. I have to admit, I'd forgotten about that blog completely until I received this email, and when I go to look at the site, I see she has decided to use it again. She seems to believe that putting a link to the Wikipedia about the Romani people makes everything okay. She writes that her "use of the term 'gypsy' is not literal and not a reference to the Romani ethnicity" but what she doesn't realize is that you can't just separate hundreds of years of persecution from a racial slur that was invented to control, shame and shun an entire race of people just because you want to. I've said it before and I'll say it again... try telling an African American that using the word 'nigger' is completely okay, and 'means nothing' or tell a Jewish American that the word 'kike' is not meant to be offensive, or tell a Hispanic American that the word 'spic' is not a racial slur. No one would ever think of doing that, because it's ridiculous, but it seems these hippie, bohemian types think it's perfectly okay to use the racial slur for the Romani people to blog with or sell products with, and no one calls them out on it or raises any voice in objection because we are the invisible minority here in America.

Well, I am raising MY VOICE in objection, to Kerstin and any and all others (I'm looking at you, gypsygirlsguide) on eBay, on etsy, and everywhere else who think no harm is done when they use this word.

The more people like YOU use this word to mean something other than it does, the more invisible we as a people become, and if we are invisible the persecution that our people face around the world will continue to happen, because no one will care about the things they cannot see. Using this word in a flippant, ignorant manner is just as bad if not worse than using it in a pejorative manner because it discounts all of that suffering, all of the reasons Gypsies really were constantly on the move... it wasn't because of so-called 'wanderlust', as these idiots claim. It was because they were run out of every city and country they tried to call home. To this day, the Romani people have no official homeland. To this day, injustices and violence is rampant against our people... if you don't believe that, just Google 'Roma' or 'Romani' persecution. You'll find stories like this burned child (http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/06/25/roma.prejudice/index.html) , for whom being a ‘gypsy’ is a death sentence. To people like her all over the world, being a Gypsy doesn't mean freedom or magic. It means living in fear.

Anyone who can look at that little girl and still use that term in such a casual way, is a monster. There is special place in hell for people like YOU.
gipsylife: (dragging our name through the mud)
I see the word 'gypsy' (or 'gipsy') thrown around a lot in casual conversation. Generally, it's part of a joke about stealing away children in the night, or being ripped off (ie., "gipped"). Most people don't realize, however, that gypsies do exist – we are an ethnic group (the Romani people), and the word ‘gypsy’ is a racial slur (much like the ‘n’ word for African Americans).

There are several misconceptions about the Romani people, one being that they cannot settle down. People believe we are free-spirited and exotic - promiscuous and morally deficient. They may think of crystal balls and tarot cards, fortune telling and other such nonsense. Some think we are thieves (thank you, Cher - "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves").

Here are a few facts about the Romani people:

- They were not nomadic by choice. They moved around because they had to… they were persecuted everywhere they went, and still are, to this day. They were persecuted alongside the Jews in the Holocaust – the Roma & Sinti (Romani nations).

- Despite the belief that gypsies dress provocatively and seduce men, traditional Romani culture has strict guidelines for the way women dress, and how they act around men. The marime code (or Gypsy law) is a strict series of laws that govern all aspects of Gypsy life. Traditional Romani women wouldn't be caught dead in shirts that barely cover their breasts, expose their bare stomachs or in skirts that have hemlines above the ankle.

- We can't tell the future. If we could, don't you think we'd have foreseen Hilter's plan for Gypsies in the Holocaust and gotten the hell out of there? Sorry to burst your bubble, folks. No crystal balls here...

Although most people seem to think that the romanticized version of the “gypsy lifestyle” should be flattering, I’m afraid most Romani people do not see it that way. This misrepresentation and romanticization of our culture is called ‘exotification’ and it is highly offensive. Though the belief among gadje (non-Romani) is that we should be flattered by these stereotypes, it is not up to outsiders to decide what racial slurs are and are not “harmless”.

I am so tired of hearing people talk about the "gypsy lifestyle". That is like saying you want to live the ‘nigger’ lifestyle, or the 'spic' lifestyle. My ethnic group is not a lifestyle or a choice. No one wanted to be a ‘gypsy’ when they were carting off Romanies to the concentration camps. These folks need to read a bit more about the race they're appropriating. This link has more info: http://www.holocaust-trc.org/sinti.htm

So, to those who think using the word 'gypsy' in this manner is "no big deal", let me ask you this: how would you feel if your ethnic heritage was mocked, or turned into a ‘mindset’ or ‘lifestyle’ by outsiders? No matter how harmless you believe it to be, this type of thing is very offensive to Romani people. I’m sure you wouldn’t like people using your culture simply because people attach a romantic nonsense to it, like they do to the word ‘gypsy’. You should be ashamed of yourself for treating someone else’s heritage and culture as if it is a joke – and that’s what you’re doing, whether you think it’s flattering or not. Romani people are fighting persecution all over the world still. It did not end with the Holocaust. What you think a ‘gypsy’ is, I can assure you, is quite incorrect. You think using this word makes you seem free-spirited, bohemian and unconventional, when the truth is it only makes you seem ignorant.


Here are several links, so you can read about ‘the gypsy life’. Gypsies (Romani people) have had to deal with the following, throughout history (and even today):

*forced sterilization (yes, it is still happening)
*eviction
*harassment (by law enforcement as well as civilians)
*fingerprinting (this is happening in Italy right now – all Romani people are being fingerprinted, simply because our race is considered ‘criminal’)
*concentration camps
*starvation
*exclusion from public schools and welfare programs
*bombings (it is not uncommon in places like the Czech Republic for people to throw molotov cocktails into the windows of Romani homes)
*forced into a nomadic lifestyle because no country wanted them there

Unfortunately, it is not as romantic as you seem to believe. I truly wish that it were. If you can read these pages and still not understand why foolish romanticization of a people that has suffered so much (and still suffers to this day) is disrespectful and wrong, then I am at a loss as to what else to say.

Links:

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0102/1224261527544.html

http://www.errc.org/Thematic_index.php

http://www.cohre.org/roma

http://www.everyonegroup.com/EveryOne/MainPage/Entries/2010/3/12_Italy,_ERRC._Evictions_of_Roma_and_Sinti.html

http://reproductiverights.org/en/document/body-and-soul-forced-sterilization-and-other-assaults-on-roma-reproductive-freedom

http://www.praguepost.com/news/2902-government-admits-forced-sterilization.html

http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/international/czech-government-apologizes-for-forced-sterilization-of-roma-women

http://www.policemag.com/Forums/Police-Magazine-Forum/From-the-Editor/New-Forum-Features/Gypsy-criminal-groups.aspx

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/gypsies.html

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005219

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/belfast-roma-attacks-highlight-european-racism-issue-20090617

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/28/opinion/28iht-edcahn.html

http://www.rps.psu.edu/0009/gypsy.html


I want to say one more thing, which is this…
To so many people, the word ‘gipsy’ has a positive connotation, however erroneous it may be, of a free-spirited, bohemian lifestyle.

But, to others, like this burned child ( http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/06/25/roma.prejudice/index.html ) , being a ‘gipsy’ is a death sentence. It means living in fear.

People need to know her story, and the stories of so many millions of others, the stories of the Sinti and Roma in the Holocaust, they need to know the truth. She has a perfect opportunity to educate people with her blog named after my people, but she chooses to remain silent and continues to use the word ‘gipsy’, as if it were her own.

WE suffered (and still suffer) because of that word, and it does not belong to outsiders. I have written to Kerstin, owner of 'gipsylife.com' and told her all of this, however, she refuses to post any comments I've made correcting her use of the word. I hope others will take a look at some of these articles and perhaps they can see where I am coming from, and why it is offensive.


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June 2011

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