Real Rroma Stuff
This is my muse and my husband. He is my best friend and we’ve shared many travels together. His late father, a highly successful industrial farm owner who was loved by his community, tried very hard to protect his children from the stigma of their heritage. Most of the children were successfully assimilated into white American culture. My husband on the other hand, was never able to pass. He observed too many of his father’s repressed cultural habits. I think his father only wanted his son to break the cycle of poverty and misery so many unassimilated Rroma people endure. It was still hurtful nonetheless. My husband went to visit his Poland once, to see where his ancestors came from. To this day refuses to return to that country, in spite of my desire to visit. It was obvious that he was a Cygan to those who weren’t tourists and the bitter treatment of prejudice that he received never ceased to haunt him. To this day, my husband sighs at forms asking for demographic information where he can’t pick “other” and has to choose “white” by default.
My beloved was too inquisitive about his roots and knew too much to be able to claim that he was simply just half-Polish and half-German. ”You don’t want people to think we’re gypsies,” was his father’s often repeated mantra. The fear while understandable for someone whose family escaped the prejudice of European culture, grated upon my husband. He saw photos of his travelling ancestors, but was not told anything meaningful about them and eventually most of the photos disappeared. After he met the Kalderash kumpania that held the key to his secret heritage at a carnival that came to his town, he couldn’t deny the truth. When he met his tribe as a high schooler, he was labelled gadje because of his inability to speak Rromanes. He solved that problem rather quickly by stealing a knife from the person flinging the slur and handing it to the chieftain. My husband had the choice between going with a caravan full of distant relatives or staying with his immediate family. He resentfully chose his immediate family and the only world he had known.
When I met him, he embodied every stereotype of the dirty gypsy: An obnoxiously loud, sexist, knife-wielding hooligan with a seemingly insatiable taste for mostly blonde chicks and things he could not have; bad teeth and all. I could not stand him, especially since those in my family with Calo Rroma blood defied the stereotypes by being decent people. Nonetheless, my Rrom was persistent and determined to be with me. When my marriage to my first husband was on the verge of collapse, that dirty gypsy actually abducted me and delivered me to my mother. He was sick of my ex’s abuse towards me, and it was a choice between getting me out of there, or stabbing the bastard.
My parents were both kind of nervous about me marrying a gitano, but they were very supportive. Marrying him was kind of strange. We never officially dated. I didn’t really love him, and I made that very clear. He didn’t care, to him marriage was a transaction and he felt that I was interesting, prosperous, hard-working and useful in the kitchen; that was good enough for him. My being pretty was just a trophy. When I finally married, I realized that the dirty gypsy, was not poor or useless. After enduring a few rocky years, (mostly family issues on his side and not anything either one of us were doing wrong,) my husband has proven himself to be the kind of husband that women kill for. Before I married him, I did not realize that the biggest preoccupation a Rrom has is to excel as husband. As it turns out, he lived up to that stereotype while growing out of the rest. His teeth are absolutely beautiful now and the only thing that makes him look like a ball of filth is fixing irrigators, climbing grain towers, piling potatoes and generally working hard at his late father’s farm.
The Rromani people are human. They are not Renaissance festival caricatures, mythical beings or genetically predisposed to be horrible people. Just like other humans they are capable of good and evil; success and failure. When presented with the right conditions, gypsies can not only overcome the expectations of their stereotypes; they can also excel and prove themselves great successes. Unfortunately, too many people of Rromani descent, like my husband’s late father, are too afraid of the stigma to succeed without being ashamed of their heritage. Too many Rromani people are faced with prejudice so great, they have little hope of success, so the fear is justified. I am grateful that my love didn’t have to abandon his to make something amazing of himself. His often annoying, sometimes sexist but ultimately wonderful cultural roots are among my favorite things about him.
This work is dedicated to him.
Rromani/Romany/Gypsy/Traveller Culture Resources
- Roma Center
- European Roma Rights Centre
- Roma Support Group
- Travellers Times
- Romany Theatre Company
- The Rromani Connection
- Romani Bible Network
- Gypsy Association