I am a Roma adoptee from Bulgaria. For those who do not know, Roma/Romani is the actual term for a community that, unfortunately, most people know as Gypsies. This name was officially self-designated at the first Romani International Congress in 1971.
To see a spread in the Star Tribune recognizing a business that uses the derogatory term Gypsy as its business name is frustrating and saddening, considering it is 2019 and people still do not know about the plight of Roma people (“A tale of two trucks,” June 9). I stopped and talked to the owner, thinking at first it was a one-time thing, a low-visibility truck, at one event. Nope.
Sweet Gypsy Waffle got featured in the Star Tribune, is owned by a professional basketball player, and will continue to make appearances wherever it goes.
The derogatory term Gypsy was not only widely circulated in a newspaper article, with an entire readership encouraged to continue mistakenly thinking it is OK to use the word, but the food truck will continue screaming the word Gypsy, plastered on its sides, at festivals and other public events, promoting a false sense of acceptability for the word.
Society has made some progress in respecting cultural and ethnic identities. For Roma, there is still much work to do. Using the word Gypsy and associated words, such as “gypped” (which stereotypically ties Gypsies to thievery and deception), is simply unacceptable. Gypsy is a name given by oppressors. Within its historical narrative, the word is solely bigoted.
What is that history? It is one of extreme, government-approved oppression, in the form of social, political and economic disenfranchisement. It is retributive violence — i.e. whole towns of Roma being razed and burned. It is genocide. It is enslavement. It is government-mandated censuses of specifically Roma people dating back to the 1800s. It is medical experimentation. It is government-directed forcible name-changing campaigns.
The list actually goes on. For those who really, simply just do not know, here is your chance to educate yourself. After this, there is no benefit of the doubt.
Currently, Roma are Europe’s largest minority. They are socially disenfranchised, consciously oppressed and forcibly assimilated by various governments, designated as social outcasts by most, and are even part of national party platforms (i.e., Italy) whose publicly stated political goals include running Roma out of the country.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights currently recognizes Roma as a minority. However, the vote in 1993 to confirm them as such was considered controversial at the time. Historically, they experienced slavery for hundreds of years. In Romania it was 500 years. They were part of Hitler’s ethnic cleansing campaign and a purposeful target of genocidal intentions, even earning their own identification patches (a brown triangle) in Nazi concentration camps. They were among the first groups, along with and even arguably before Jews, to experience concentrations camps, as early as 1935, four years before WWII started.
In fact, Nazis specifically funneled Roma from special feeder Roma ghettos into concentration camps, where Roma were often housed separately from all other concentration camp prisoners, and not for favored treatment. The level of degradation Roma experienced at the hands of Nazi Germany is so culturally traumatic that Roma refer to this time period as, “The Devouring.”
Roma have no homeland, but not because they are inherently a nomadic people, love to travel or are free spirits. The source of their “characteristic” transience is actually multifaceted. In various combinations, they have consistently been run out of countries via constant infringements on their living space (i.e., in the 2000s Russian Roma were forced out of land via forced evictions), as victims of forced migration, as slaves transported to various locations throughout history, as poor people used as currency and trade items by wealthy landowners, etc. The history goes on, but the pattern is clear.
Roma may not have a border-defined national identity, but they do have an official national flag, first introduced in 1933 and officially adopted in 1971 at the First World Romani National Congress, which meets every few years. They have a national language, a national song, are recognized as victims of the Holocaust by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and have some visibility in the United Nations.
Yet, widespread visibility is still very low, especially in the United States. TV shows like “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding,” food trucks like Sweet Gypsy Waffles and Etsy businesses like Gypsy Lamb preserve archaic stereotypes. Let us do what we all do when we introduce ourselves to each other: call each other by our names.
To learn more and confirm many of the details and historical references mentioned above you can turn to the following resources as a starting point:
• “Bury Me Standing” by Isabel Fonseca
• “The Pariah Syndrome” by Ian Hancock
• The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe website (osce.org)
• The International Federation for Human Rights website (fidh.org)
• The US Holocaust Museum website (ushmm.org)
Rumyana Hulmequist lives in Minneapolis.