Friday, July 20, 2012

American Gypsies

I write Women’s Fiction, so it’s important for me to connect with other women in the blogosphere by writing on topics that are of interest to us, particularly in the realm of relationships. I wrote a blog post about friendships and the ultimate value of them, and I also mentioned my good friend, Shannon. I’ve written about husbands (all in a positive light, of course). Eventually, I’ll get to one of my favorite topics, which is about mothering and how not to murder your teenagers.

Today I really don’t want to write about relationships or even women’s issues. I love relationships in all of its forms. The nuances in the way humans interact is a fascinating psychological study, plus they’re fun. But lately, for the purpose of the novel I’m writing, my focus has been on researching Roma traditions and the unique ways they live their lives.

There’s a short-run show that just started called “American Gypsies”. Admittedly, I haven’t seen it yet because I’ve been travelling, but I look forward to catching some of the future episodes. From what I’ve read, the show follows one Roma family that lives in New York City. As I’ve said, I haven’t watched it, but my mother has, and this is what she reported:

“The senior male of the family has most of the control even in the lives of his adult children and their children. The children are home schooled and not allowed to mix with non-gypsies. Girls are expected to marry by age 16 and go to live with her husbands’ parents so she can be properly trained by her mother-in-law to be a good wife to her son. One of the sons wanted to allow his daughters to take acting lessons, and that caused friction but he did it anyway. If a woman works she is to become a fortune teller.

“The wife of the senior male has some control but of course everyone is subject to the senior male. One of the teenage sons (grandsons) is dating a non-gypsy which is completely taboo. One can only marry another gypsy. The laws governing the gypsies aren't just the local laws. They have their own laws and courts.”

The reason I mentioned my mom’s review of the show is to point out the fact that not all Roma and not all tribes are the same. While I understand the fascination with cultures that are not our own, it’s very easy for us as outsiders to only see one segmented view. For example, in Hungary, many (not all) Roma children attend school. Some schools are integrated with other Hungarian children while others are segregated. Also, many of the articles I’ve read pointed out that the segregated schools do not offer the same high standards of education Hungary seeks to achieve; however, the fact remains that not all Roma children are homeschooled.

When I visited Pécs, Hungary recently, I interviewed a tour guide who told me that the esteemed University of Pécs had Roma professors. The most vocal advocate for Roma equality, Ian Hancock, holds two PhDs and is a professor in my home state.

Education is only one, but an important one, of the differences among the tribes and localities of these fascinating people. While I plan to watch the show and encourage others to as well, please keep in mind that no culture or sub-culture can fit so narrowly into pre-conceived stereotypes.

They are a people with long-held traditions, and most do not wish to be assimilated, but a right understanding of who they are and what they believe is something us gadje (non-Roma) can give them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Roma Women and Rights

There has been a lot done in our nation to further women’s rights. Some of which has produced great benefits; others, not so much, and I’ll talk about the negatives in future posts. While not everything is perfect, I believe in embracing the positives and not throwing the baby out with the bath water, to use an old cliché. However, this post isn’t about the good of women’s rights in America. We have that already. I want to talk about women who don’t know they’re supposed to have rights and an organization that is benefitting them.

Roma, better known as Gypsies, are a minority group who primarily live in Central and Eastern Europe. In many countries, neither the men nor the women have much in the way of rights. Because their traditions and laws are so different from their host countries', they’ve been persecuted, enslaved, and ignored for centuries. Admittedly, some of it has been deserved while much of it hasn’t. Other than in America and England, one of the better countries for them to reside in is Hungary. Hungary recognizes them as citizens and has laws in place to educate and protect them. While their education system has some flaws, it’s a good start even though many Roma haven’t taken full advantage because of their traditions.

This is where the women come in. There is an organization in the beautiful city of Pécs called "Colorful Pearls" (Szines Gyöngyök). Its purpose is to empower Romani women, and they provide assistance with social, legal, and mental health issues. The president and founder, Anna Kelemen stated in this interview that the women tend to be more flexible than the men in bettering their standards of living and promoting cultural acceptance.

Naturally, there was some opposition, particularly at first, among the Roma men because they believed the hierarchy of their families would be in jeopardy. Anna had her work cut out for her in convincing the Roma community that her work in educating the women and empowering them to find jobs and to work for the betterment of themselves and their families was for the benefit of the women and not in opposition to the men. The family structure is not infringed upon; rather their statuses within the Hungarian community have improved.

What Anna Kelemen has done is not just for the improvement of Roma women, but she has also furthered the work in minority rights.

To find out more about "Colorful Pearls" or to contribute to this important cause, please visit their site (assuming you can read Hungarian).