Gypsy / Romani discussion (spun off from GQ thread)

Is this one of those situations where the term was offensive to the Romani people the whole time, but it just took a while before outsiders learned about it and/or started to care?

Germany enacted a “Law for the Fight Against Gypsies, Vagrants and the Workshy” in 1926 (pre-Hitler.) That gives you an idea of where they stood.

Granted, the term doesn’t have the same emotional impact in the U.S. as it does in Europe, if only because the actual Roma population is so small here. Popular culture here treats the term as more of a collection of stereotypical traits than an actual group of people.

My own feeling is that it belongs in the same category as “Oriental” or “Colored” - antiquated and imposed on the group by outsiders.

In early Ceausescu Romania (1970) Romani were pretty much given a pass from laws that strictly prohibited private enterprise. On Sundays, Romani would take the train into town, laden with produce from their farms, and set up a black market. Tho police would wait until late in the day before moving in with a show of force, and chase the laughing Romanis back to the depot.

And yet German culture of the same time period had a very romantic view of Native Americans (e.g. Karl May’s books).

I guess it’s easier to romanticize an ethnic group that you don’t see on a daily basis.

Though the flip side of that overlooking of Romani during a horrifying regime is that Romania also enslaved the Romani population until 1856. (Although by 1856 it was a minority of the Romani population.

When I read this post, I thought you might have been referring to Kal, who gave his insights as a Romani in this 2002 thread I started (I was curious about the Irish Travelers, which led to a discussion of the Romani). He has not posted in a while, but was seen on the board in August of last year.

I’ve always encountered Romani as figures of at least suspicion if not outright criminal, from the Famous Five books onwards. At least, adult Romani, they often got assistance from good Romani children.

This often sat alongside romanticizing their lifestyle - the Five were always going off in caravans. Look also at The Wind in The Willows, where travelling in a Romani-style caravan is painted as an awesome adventure, yet a Romani horse-dealer is characterized in less positive terms.

“Workshy” would make a good name for dogs too

My mid-century origin American perspective is that the casual view of the Romani / (always called gypsies until like the 1990s) was that they were an exotic / mysterious people of Europe who lived in colorful wagons and were associated with things like fortune tellers, casting of curses, and other things supernatural. Trying to think back to my knowledge of decades ago, I think at one point I frankly just understood gypsies and their caravans to be an old “cultural practice” that mostly had died out in modern times, I don’t think I even really understood there were actually large gypsy populations, that they were a distinct ethnic group etc until years later. I never knew of a serious negative connotation of them until I spent time stationed in Europe in the 1980s when I found out that many locals loathed / hated them.

I definitely have zero awareness of Americans disliking or hating gypsies, and like the post referenced by the OP I mostly remember them being portrayed as “mysterious” and “exotic” people in media of my youth. By the 90s I definitely remember that at least some level of awareness was building that “hey this is actually a historically persecuted ethnic group of nomadic peoples who have lived mostly in Europe for hundreds of years.” Something that has only grown over time.

There’s about 1,000,000 people of Romani descent here in the United States which isn’t a lot in a nation of more than 300,000,000 people. Just to put that in perspective, we have almost three times as many Russian and four times as many Swedish descendants. In addition to being a very small minority, when the Romani came to the United States they were typically counted as belonging to whatever larger group they were a part of. I.e. If the Romani came from Poland they were Poles if they were from Italy they were Italians.

I was a bit surprised to find the vehement hatred of the Romani by many Europeans. I’ve seen similar slurs against the Irish Travelers here in the United States. I think the first time I became aware of them was in the late 80s or early 90s on one of those news magazine shows (Dateline, 20/20, or something) and it revolved around asphalt and other construction scams.

Its hard to say, because it 1895, the U.S. made “gypsies” a class that wasn’t eligible for immigration. But a lot of Romani can assimilate - and many - like my great grandparents - did in order to immigrate. There are less than 1,000,000 cultural Romani in the United States, how many assimilated Romani like me - that’s impossible to tell since we aren’t a census category and many of our forefathers assimilated deeply enough that our racial status is lost (you have some Native American in you, type of lost. Or “surprise” your great great grandmother was enslaved, but when freed, chose to pass and married a white man.")

And yeah, in real life I wouldn’t disclose this to any European. One of the few times I did, I lost a friend. The bigotry and bias runs deep. But dark skin, dark eyes, the Italian last name explains a lot.

Same. Head scarves, flowing colorful clothes and lots of gold hoops. And, while I don’t remember directly equating them with thieves, it was a common enough joke that you would “sell the kids to the Gypsies” which doesn’t exactly cast them in a flattering light. But, as also mentioned, I think most people in my neck of the woods saw “Gypsies” as a mythological collection of stereotypes rather than as an actual ethnic group.

I once worked with an executive who had Gypsy as her legal first name, as opposed to a nickname/stage name.

I had a similar experience when I learned this, though not recently. To the extent I thought of “Gypsies” at all, it was very neutral. As an American born and raised in New England.

This is pretty much how I grew up. The first actual Romani person I met was another student in a college class I took. The topic of the class was “nomads”, and he was disappointed that it only covered pastoral nomads, and not urban nomads. He’s also the first person who told me (the class) that the term “gypsy” is offensive, so I’ve never really applied it to any actual human beings – just to the mythological fortune tellers.

The only person I have met whom I was aware was Romani was a female teen who was in juvenile detention where I work in Illinois. She spoke little English and was very mistrustful of everyone. I felt terribly sorry for her. I started reading articles about the Roma while she was detained. I had little knowledge prior to that regarding the difficulties they face in some countries. She had been in an orphanage in Sofia, Bulgaria, for several years. It was apparently common for Romani children to be taken from their families and placed in state orphanages to prevent them from growing up in the Roma culture. The orphanages were often poorly run and abusive. She was eventually adopted by a family in the US, but due to difficulty in bonding with the new parents, they placed her in residential treatment in the US midwest, over 1,000 miles from their home. She was even more of a fish out of water here. She got in fights, was charged with Battery, and ended up in juvenile detention. She needed an interpreter for her court hearings. Her situation was unusual enough that despite only being detained for about 3 weeks over 15 years ago, I still remember her name. Snooping on the internet reveals to me that she seems to still be living with or near her adoptive family, so things may have eventually worked out to some extent.

My one other “gypsy” anecdote relates to one of my great-grandfathers. For some reason, my mom’s family found it significant to pass along a story that my great-grandfather was known for buying and selling horses with “gypsies”. They seemed to think that was unusual or exotic, not bad or disreputable. I have no idea whether those “gypsies” would have been Romani, Irish Travelers, or some other group of wanderers who passed through Missouri periodically in the early 1900’s.

I learned the concept from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The way Esmerelda is treated was obviously bad, but she also used the term for herself at times, including in a song.

I assume the movie is on Disney+. Does anyone know if there is a disclaimer before the video, or perhaps that the word has been edited out?

My mom told me a story that happened when she was a kid. One of her younger sisters was on a swing that was set up on a small hill, so that when you swung forward there was a big drop to the ground. My aunt was very young, four or five, so she was only swinging a little bit. A bully came up behind her and gave her a big shove. The swing swung out, and my aunt fell off the swing. Fortunately, she fell into soft earth or a pile of leaves and was not physically injured. However, she didn’t grow at all for over a year. Pretty unusual for a kid that young.

So, my grandmother took my aunt “to the Gypsies.” She never said anything about what happened, but almost immediately my aunt began to grow again…although she was always the shortest of the five girls.

It’s such a weird little story that I wonder if it really happened. It was in a very small town in southern Ohio. My grandparents were Hungarian immigrants.