[A Few of] My Experiences as a Romani Person, Insofar as They Relate to Modern Culture & History

For those of you who don’t know, I’m Roma. And when I say “Roma”, I mean I’m actually 100% Eastern European & Balkan Roma—three-quarters Lovari and a quarter Romungro to be exact—and not some ignorant White person claiming to be “Gypsy” or someone who is playing-up alleged, distant/remote Romanichal or Welsh Kale ancestry or a non-Rom “Gypsy” such as an Irish/Scottish Traveller or Yenish person who’s stupidly convinced that such “Gypsy” groups are all legitimately Romani or are all somehow seriously genetically or culturally linked to all Roma, Sinti, Iberian Kale and other actual Romani.

NEWFLASH: Romani and Travellers and Yenish are not at all related to one another! The latter two groups have barely have anything to do with us Romani and are in no way seriously or directly connected to us! They’re as different from us as Native Americans are as different from actual Indians.

So yeah, I am an actual European Rom belonging directly to the original, primary Romani ethnic sub-group known as the Roma. I was born in Hungary to a Roma family with their own Eastern European Roma communities and everything, but for reasons that I’m not comfortable sharing, I was quickly orphaned and was put up for international (code of “off-continent”) adoption and was eventually adopted and lovingly raised by a multi-ethnic*, yet decidedly 100% White, multi-generational American family.

*German, French, French-Candian, Welsh, Slovak/Czech and Irish

Growing-up, I had very little knowledge of my actual heritage, and although I’m as legitimately Hungarian as any Hungarian of considerable or distinct “ethnic Magyar”, Ashkenazi, Turkish, Austrian, Romanian or even extremely distant Mongolian-descent, I grew-up knowing very little about my Roma heritage and the Romani identity. And it didn’t help that I knew very little about Hungary as well. All I knew is that I was born near Budapest; that Tony Curtis and Gene Simmons were both Hungarian-American; that Harry Houdini and Gabor Sisters (Zsa Zsa, Eva & Magda) were Hungarian-born Americans; that the guy who invented the Rubik’s Cube (Ernő Rubik) and the famous Classical composer Franz Liszt were both Hungarian; that goulash was Hungary’s national dish, and that Hungarian isn’t like other European languages and that it’s one of the Top 5 Hardest Langues in the World. That’s it. And in regard to Roma heritage, all I was told at various points throughout my early childhood about my birth family was that my birthmother was a “Gypsy” and that my unnamed birthfather was most likely one as well.

Needless to say, this lack of information created a very uncomfortable sense of self very early on in life. I had no idea that I was actually a person of color and that 90% of Hungarians don’t actually look like me. (This always made it awkward when people would ask me if I was indigenous Mexican or Indian, because I’d tell them that I was 100% White Hungarian.)

I had no idea that I was only half “White European” (as most Roma and other mainland Romani are considerably “Dirty White”) and upwards to just a little under 50% South Asian (my Ancestry and 23andMe reports differently greatly up say that I’m 33% South Asian and that my twin brother is 48% South Asian, with identified regions of Northern & North-Central Indian), as well as a complex admixture of many other various, decidedly “non-White” ancestries throughout Asia. And not only was unaware of my ancestors’ Indian heritage, but I was also completely unaware of the slavery, genocide, sterilization, forced mobility, forced conversion, internment, sex trafficking, child separation, and segregation they endured over the past 1,500 years. Plus, I had no idea that White people and other non-Rom had spent over a century ignorantly portraying us on stage and in film. (Seriously, what people have done to and still continue to do to us and is not only a legitimate form of Whitewashing, but also a very serious form of Brownface and I was unaware of this up until somewhere around age 8.)

I had no idea that Doctor Doom, Dick Grayson (the original Robin), Magneto, and Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver were all originally Romani. (All of them, with the exception of Magneto, are still Romani in the comics, despite being constantly Whitewashed on film and television. Surprisingly, I was aware that Nightcrawler had been adopted by “Gypsies”, but that’s about it.) I had no idea that “Gypsy” was a highly derogatory exyonym on par with “Injun” that rapidly evolved into a racial slur used on par with the “N-word”!

I had no idea “gypsy” is neither a “life-style” nor “culture”. And, I sure as hell didn’t know that the Romani are distinct “contemporary ethnic group” who are considered racially separate from the rest of Europe’s other prominent, indigenous populations. We Romani have lived in Europe for over upwards to 1,000 years and possess considerable “White European” heritage derived from various groups that are actually indigenous to the continent, so being anywhere from 10% to 80% Indian and other Asian shouldn’t deprive of us of a proper place in European society, because we’re as European as anyone else!

My earliest memories of “exposure” to my people were in the form of two classic Disney films The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pinocchio, and boy, do both suck ass… Not only do both films lack Romani voice actors (French Sinti in the case of “Hunchback” and Italian Roma or Sinti in the case of Pinocchio), but they’re both extremely racist. Not once in either film do they call their Romani characters “Roma”, “Rom”, “Romani”, “Sinto”, “Sinti”, “Gitan” or “Manouche”; instead, they’re constantly referred to as “Gypsies” either in the films themselves, in their official synopses or various promotional materials and merchandise. And I don’t know what’s worst, the fact that they completely Whitewashed Quasimodo or that fact that Stromboli is Disney’s Antiziganist equivalent to an Anti-Semitic meme or Jim Crow-era magazine ad. Well, that and he’s a money-grubbing, fire-breathing, child-snatching carny who peddles trinkets from a sketchy caravan, so his physical appearance isn’t the only issue.

I mean, sure, a majority of the characters in these two films look decidedly Romani, (although a surprising number of people are convinced that Esmeralda is Black or Hispanic/Latina—the latter of which makes no sense when you account for history and geography—and that Stromboli is Jewish, despite both literally being established as a “Gypsy” by The Walt Disney Company as well as in the actual, original tales both films are based off of), but they’re still cartoonish depictions of us that, even at their best, offer very essentializing portrayals of us. I mean, having somewhat accurately illustrated depictions of us is great and all, but they’re still largely devoid of any legitimate connection to our culture, history or greater struggles. The only good thing in all the entirety of “Hunchback” is Esmeralda’s song “God Help the Outcasts”, and even that song—for many obvious reasons–is ignorant and offensive.

My next exposure to my people came in the form of what is usually either one or two sentences in various social studies and history texts books across elementary and middle school—text books that largely referred to us as “Gypsies” and severely under-reported our death tolls in the Holocaust. Instead, beyond the tragic and massive loss of the Ashkenazi Jewish people and most Poles, I learned more about other groups that had maybe less than 1% of their population die in World War II, often during actual battles… Obviously, any loss of life is tragic, but when over 2 million Roma and Sinti are killed, thus drastically reducing Europe and the world’s Romani population by over 85% and officially making them the most disproportionately killed ethnic/racial group targeted by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, it’s absurd not to give their deportation, internment, torture and genocide any attention. The only things I learned from this was that my people had never been properly apologized to, compensated or memorialized for the losses and torture they experienced for a majority of the war and that Americans don’t really care about us.

The only time I ever had a teacher openly talk about my people was when a Jewish student got up before the WWII section of our 8th Grade History Class and demanded that we accept the deaths of over 6 Million Jews and that he was gonna be all hypersensitive and super aggressive and make the Holocaust all about himself and “his people”. Thankfully, our teacher, who was also appalled by his super ignorant remarks, told him to sit down and remember that we had a Roma student in the class as well as Black student and even a student with a recently broken limb, so we would have been targeted as well.

(And for those of you wondering, I’m apparently part distant Ashkenazi and remote distant Polish and Slavic, so even if I weren’t Romani, and yet had actually been alive during that time myself, I’d still most likely would’ve been targeted in some way, shape or form had certain people known of such alleged ancestry. Also, being from Hungary, I can guarantee that both my Romani ancestors, i.e., biological great grandparents and great-great grandparents, and distant, non-Rom ancestors, i.e., various distant cousins’ families, endured the horrors of both World War II and the Holocaust in some notable capacity.)

The next real exposure I had to my people was once again through film. In the 2006 mockumentary Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen used a an entire Roma village in the middle of Romania as a punching bag (not a punchline) throughout the course of the movie, and even had an entire Antiziganist scene where he kept accusing a “random” White woman of being a “Gypsy” who intends to steal from and curse him. (That scene alone generated years of people asking for my tears, and it was never really funny.)

Honestly, I truly can’t tell you how angering it was to see a rich, White British man parade us around on camera, laughing at us as he implies that we’re the “terrorists” and “Muslims” and “Middle Easterners” that dumb Americans are supposed to fear that we’re “incestuous retards” and “rapists” and animal torturers and just all around backwards people. And Cohen only did this because he, for the most part, would be able to get away with it. He knew we wouldn’t object to his filming and script the same way that actual Middle Eastern, Caucasian or Central Asian people would and that Romanian government would me more than happy to exploit the Roma for profit. Also, we’re a majority Christian (mostly Catholic) people and are profoundly South Asian and European so it’s not like we would’ve taken up arms against him had he insulted Islam and the Middle East. (And no, I’m not suggesting that Western Asian practitioners of Islam are inherently violent, but it’s obvious that if a White Jewish man from Europe actually somehow managed to film on location in Kazakhstan, he would have most likely been met with some level of violence by the locals, and deservedly so.) Furthermore, we Roma and other mainland Romani usually lack the general resources to learn English in the same ways that most other non-native English-speakers do, so they were the perfect suckers for his unique brand of stupidity and racism. Nearly all the people of Gold, Romania couldn’t understand him and none of them had any idea as to what he was actually doing.

The worst part is, very few people actually realized that the people in those scenes were European Roma and that only months later, after being pressured by various activists groups and independent news organizations, did he reluctantly donate $5,000 to the village, (which is nothing considering all the shame and hurt he brought upon the global Romani community and the actual profits that film grossed within those first few months). Realistically speaking, he should have paid for the entire village to be rebuilt, especially since it still currently lacks proper running water and electricity.

I could go on and on (and I will in a future post), but I just wanted to share this all with you. It’s hard to keep this all bottled up inside and I want to thank each and every one of you who wound-up reading this. So, thank you.

Here of some photos of me being as Romani as possible, all with very little to no effort! Hahahah Also, you get to see what a Roma person looks like with different skin tones. (I still tan very easily and quickly, but I due to health-related issues, I don’t get as much sun these days.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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