Breaking "Gypsy" Stereotypes

The first basic step in separating myths and stereotypes from facts and authenticity is in the use of our terminology. Rom means a human being, person or man in the Romani language. The Roma do not call themselves Gypsies. Historically, the term "Gypsy" came from the mistaken assumption on the part of Anglo-Europeans that Roma originated in Egypt. In fact, the Roma are a distinct ethnic minority, distinguished at least by Rom blood and the Romani, or Romanes, language, whose origins began in the Punjab region of India. Their migration began in the 2th Century, when they traveled through the Persian Gulf, Egypt, Turkey, eventually spreading all over Europe. While Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, they remain the least integrated and the most persecuted people of Europe today.

Using the word "Gypsy" is not only inaccurate but perpetuates the continuation of stereotypes that portray Roma as beggars, swindlers, and thieves; thus the phrase: "I've been gypped". The romanticized image of the "Gypsy" is alive and well in song lyrics, novels, costume parties, musical groups, and other forms of cultural imagery: "They are exotic women in colorful skirts, dancing in sensual swirls. They are dark en with smoldering eyes. They are carefree spirits playing the tambourine." 1 They dance by campfires, travel in caravans, tell fortunes with crystal balls or Tarot cards.

But as VOR president Sani Rifati writes:

"I won't play you a sad song on my violin. I do not have a bandana. I do not have a golden tooth. I do not have long hair or a golden hoop in my ear. I am just trying to speak up for my people:

  • to tell you about their suffering and the persecution they've endured throughout the centuries
  • to ask you to fight against ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes

Simply put, as a place to start: please call me Rom."

Some important words/terminology in the Romani language:

  • Rom - Noun: human being, person, man, husband (sing.).
  • Roma - Noun: people (pl.)
  • Rroma - Noun: people, alternative spelling (some Romani scholars/activists prefer to write it in this form so that readers will not confuse it with the city of Rome in Italy.)
  • Romani - Adjective : as in, Romani language, history, culture etc...
  • Romani/Romanes - Noun: the spoken language of Romani people, derives from the Sanskrit, Punjabi region in East India.
  • Herdeljezi - Noun: advent of summer, also known as "Saint George Day" celeliation
  • Mahala - Noun: community, neighborhood, or the district where Roma live
  • Gadje - Noun, plural: non-Roma, outsiders (Gadjo/Gadji - non-Romani man/woman)
  • Gadjikane - Adjective: non-Romani, foreign
  • Porrajmos - "the Devouring", the Holocaust
  • Opre Roma - Expression: "Rise up, Roma!"

1. From a Boston newspaper article about a Romani family in 1986

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Last modified 03/23/10 02:10 EDT