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.


  1. Given your fascination, Oksana Marafioti's book does sound like a good one for you! I love that you are providing information on that changing culture in a way that neither romanticizes nor villifies it. So much of what I grew up with did one or the other.

  2. I look forward to reading her book, and it will be for pure pleasure. Everything else I'm delving into, like a book on Roma laws, is for research. I feel it's important to portray a certain level of accuracy in novels.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

  3. I've seen that ad for American Gypsies and admit to not knowing that the cultural unit exists in the U.S. I think it's a fascinating culture and one that I wouldn't mind learning more about.

    I look forward to your post on how not to murder one's teenagers. LOL!