Sonneillon V.


Posts tagged with "Romani"


The Roma who lost their homes to make way for the Olympics


The construction of the athletes’ village broke up a community that had been on the site legally since 1972.

As athletes settle in to the Olympic Village in East London, a “home away from home” for officials and competitors, some may wonder who lived there before them. The complex now is studded with luxury flats for the 17,000 Olympic athletes and the 4,500 Paralympians who will follow them. With karaoke facilities, an on-site gym with more than 50 treadmills and a 5,000-seat dining room, the architecture has a watery theme “accentuating the closeness of the River Lea”.

The site’s previous inhabitants also prized the proximity of the Lea, as well as the meadows where they used to graze horses, the cycle track where the kids played and the hill where the older residents sat watching the horizon. More than 15 families of Gypsies had lived here legally – on land no one else wanted – since 1972, paying rent to the council and for all their utilities.

“Clays Lane weren’t much to look at,” says Esther Smith, 31, a mother of four whose extended family had lived on the site for over three decades. “But it was home. There was a strong sense of community. You had room to think.” Her cousin Lisa Smith, 36, nods. “It wasn’t like living in London. It felt very safe.”

For the Clays Lane families, the journey since London won the Olympic bid on July 6th 2005, has been one long nightmare. “The first thing we knew about it was a big notice stuck on the gate,” says Tracie Giles, a mother from Clays Lane who became a campaigner for the families evicted by the Olympics. “It was a compulsory purchase order from the London Development Agency.”

Alternative sites proposed by Newham Council horrified the residents. “They wanted to put us on Jenkins Lane, a terrible place underneath the A406 by a sewage gully and facing Burger King,” Tracie remembers. “Another one was directly under the flight path for City Airport.” For a while, the families were poised to move to Chobham Farm, next to Westfield Shopping Centre. But after months of consultation, the offer was withdrawn.

“Meanwhile, Clays Lane was getting worse,” Tracie says. “Demolition was going on all around. We were fenced in, choking with dust, surrounded by massive machinery. There was nowhere safe for the kids to play.

Backed by the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, Tracie and the other families fought the closure of Clays Lane with a legal challenge in the high court and a judicial review. “I really thought we’d win,” Tracie says. “But we didn’t. They said we were moving to Parkway Crescent.” In July 2007, five months after the building work had begun, families were given a month’s notice to move. “We packed up all our belongings,” Tracie says. “The council cut off the street lighting and stopped the postman coming. But still we didn’t move.” Their leaving date was postponed 11 times. “The new site wasn’t ready. We were prisoners on a building site.”

The families finally moved in mid-October 2007. “I remember waking up the last morning,” Tracie says. I just felt this huge sense of loss, looking at all the empty pitches.” The new site was next to the athlete’s entrance to the Olympic complex, surrounded by busy roads. Each family had a pitch with space to put a caravan and a ‘shed’ – a prefabricated block with a bathroom and kitchen.

“The water comes in the windows when it rains, the rain was coming in the front door,” Esther Smith says. “The boiler went, I had a water leak that went on for months. Plug sockets were held on by an elastic band. Baths aren’t sealed properly. There’s no privacy. The tube runs underneath – it’s so loud!”

Tracie’s sister Lisa shakes her head. “We’ve been four and a half years now living on Europe’s biggest building site. I’m 36, and I feel 100. I’m out of breath. Two minutes after you’ve cleaned it’s dusty again. Kids round here have developed asthma. The stress has been unbelievable. Just for two weeks of sport.

“I was happy about London getting the Olympics, but we haven’t been treated right as a community. They wouldn’t have done it to any other people. No-one’s even offered us a free ticket.”

Once the Olympics and Paralympics end, Parkway Crescent will be prime land for legacy development. “We’ve never been given a permanent licence, they’ve just kept renewing a temporary one for four and a half years,” Tracie says. “Will we get moved somewhere even worse?”

Newham Council declined to comment on the families’ future at the site or their experiences since being forced to move from Clays Lane. Elsewhere, speaking about the Athletes’ Village, British Olympic medallist Colin Jackson called it “the heart and soul of everything… a place that you feel comfortable, where you feel there’s a sense of belonging.” Five years after London won the bid for the Olympic Games, the Clays Lane Gypsies can still only dream of such a place.

Tell me Why


When every other photo or post is a stereotype of my people,
and my life,

and you laugh.

and you laugh.

When every other girl dreams of being what I wish that I 
could rip from my eyes

and tells me I have no voice.

I have no voice.

Tell me why I should be courteous and kind?

When relatives, friends, sisters and brothers, are being murdered
and evicted; raped and beaten; falsely accused and tossed 

and left to die.

Tell me why I should be courteous and kind?

When Europe does not mourn our loss but rather
celebrates destruction of those

inadaptables, those




Tell me why I should be courteous and kind?

When the only photographs I see of my people are of
half-naked, dirty, hungry children,
and women who stare blankly after their men,
in slums
bound by walls. 

Or white girls in long dresses
draped in fields
with dream catchers
and gaudy rings
or playing cards and crystal balls
pretending they know what it’s like
to be me. 

When the only stories I hear of my people are of killings,
and rapes, and arson,
and the white people

who did it
and who claim
divine intervention
for their hideous

Tell me why I should be courteous and kind?

When every day opens with emails and messages
brimming with hate because I am a Gypsy;

Everything about me is wrong.
Everything about me is erased by your
and your photos
and your posts about Stevie Nicks and Shakira

and your wish to live my life,

as a Gypsy.

So, tell me why I should be courteous and kind…

My Ethnicity is Not a Commodity


The New York Times published an article on 11 July 2012 titled, “Joining the Gypsy Caravan”.

One can only imagine what this article may be about, or how offensive it may possibly be. Ruth La Ferla, the author, writes as if she is an expert about Romani culture, as if she has unlocked the secrets to appropriating Romani traditional dress and now, finally, we can be represented accurately as a fashion and media trend.

Barring the obvious, that non-Romani do not understand our cultural dress, that the way we dress, what adornments we use, and even how we do our hair varies among the many sub-groups, or vitsas, of our ethnic population. With little knowledge of what a “gypsy” even is, high fashion deems it entirely acceptable to alter, and quite frankly, dessimate our traditional dress purely for the satisfaction of a consumer base largely comprised of wealthy, white, young adult women.

Would it be alright if I designed plain, stereotypical “white” clothing, then advertised under the phrase “Joining the cracker suburbs”? Would they come in droves to buy “cracker” inspired polo shirts? Doubtfully.

I don’t put on “kraut” lederhosen and start referring to my newly found style as Bavarian-tribal and pretend to identify with or know anything about culture in Germany. If high end fashionistas began mixing their polka dots and stripes, deeming it “Polack”-chic, they would certainly get a rise from many Polish individuals.

How is it not acceptable to use an ethnic slur and commodify the dress of your fellow white people, but for some reason, culture of those who fall under the category of “tribal”, “exotic”, or “gypsy”, is never afforded accurate and respectful representation in the art and fashion of those who are not members of these ethnic groups? Would you feel comfortable marketing clothes with an African “inspiration” under the label of “tar-baby” trends? It would be just super racist, right.

” […] ‘wore rings on every finger, and I had a stack of bracelets crawling up my arm.’ The changeup was expressive, she said, ‘of a palpable shift to a more personal, chaotic look,’ a festive nod to full-on Gypsy chic.”

No, Vogue Magazine, I have never worn rings on every finger. I have never had bracelets crawling up my arms. I have never met a Romani person dressed in the manner that you are describing; never in my life.

The idea that “gypsy” fashion is individualistic, or chaotic, is not only outright wrong, but extremely insulting. If you want to get technical, our traditional dress is far from “individualistic”. Every article of clothing, every adornment we wear, even how we fix our hair, is symbolic of the Romani group to which we belong, our marital status, and the passing of various other life events. Assuming that we just throw on anything we please both neglects that we have any set customs inherent in our traditional dress, but also trivializes the meaning of what we chose to wear.

“Surprisingly, its flames are being fanned by Gypsies themselves, a youthful cohort intent on exploring the heritage and, often as not, complicit in spinning that heritage into a commodity.”

I will not be buying your clothes, and neither will any other young Romani women. The suggestion that I, an ethnic Romani, know less about my heritage than wealthy, white fashion designers is demeaning. Pardon me, since the white women of high fashion obviously know far more about my own culture than I do, let me step aside so you can show me. Clearly, these Romani “gypsies”, your “tribal” plebians who are the source of your infallible fashion ideology are far too uneducated & far too ignorant to ever understand their own heritage, let alone their very own customs. Please, oh supreme white fashionistas, save of us from our own incomprehension of our culture.

Romani are not “complicit in spinning that heritage into a commodity”. Had you taken a few precious moments from your all important task of infantilizing my people, and typed the word Romani in to your Google search instead of “gypsy”, you may have immediately come across the mountains of petitions and websites dedicated to fighting this commodification and media trendiness of our culture. Of course, I know nothing of my heritage, so how could I ever accurately advise such artistic white genius.

God forbid. God forbid, even for a second, you take time to step outside your upper-crust white-bred neighborhood and ask these “gypsies” what they like to wear, or why they dress a certain way. God forbid you ever admit that you may be wrong, or that for the sake of respect, you forego the silly millions to be made by marketing my dessimated culture to wealthy, white young adult women. God forbid.

“Frequently obsessed with outsider cultures, they are paying homage by festooning dresses in coins and chains, combining madly clashing patterns or adding flounces and fringe […]”

So, I’m an outsider. Forget that our children attend school with yours, that we live in the same neighborhoods as you. No, we are foreign. You must insist that we are not like you, we are somehow different, less than. We have not lived in your countries for over one thousand years, we never learned your languages. Your attempts to take our children from us, to “assimilate” us, to kill us off as a people have failed, because to you, we are still outsiders.

What is a “festooning” dress, anyway? I do not believe that I have any dresses that fall under the category of “festooning”. I do not adorn my clothing with chains, or gold coins. I have no clothes that have a fringe, nor do I clash patterns. Perhaps the pattern clashing is better suited to that “Polack”-chic, because I do believe you are using the wrong ethnic slur here.

You know nothing of our traditional dress. Some Romani women who belong to particular vitsas in specific countries do wear printed skirts, often floral patterns. These skirts also have a special hem, they have a pocket sewn in certain way on the inside, they have ties sewn on in a certain place, and are accompanied by an apron of the same cloth. None of your ultra “gypsified” models have anything remotely resembling this traditional skirt.

Why do we wear such long skirts, anyway? Oh, right. My silly ignorant Romani self would not know the answer to this because white designers know my culture better than I ever could. I must be absolutely incorrect that Romani women, more often than not, cover their legs. I could not possibly be accurate in saying that a Romani woman would not be allowed to wear short skirts, or cropped tops, no matter how “gypsy” they appear to be.

“You sense about the Gypsy style something very sensual, very ornate and very precious,” he said, “but also very free.”

You brought it up, so don’t blame me for the response, Mr. Altuzarra. There is nothing sensual about a middle-aged woman in an ankle-length skirt, a blouse about two sizes too big, and scarf atop her head. The goal of our traditional methods of dressing is actually to de-sexualize women. That is precisely why our skirts are so long, and our blouses so loose. The purpose of our headscarves, called a diklo, is to actually cover our hair. We do not wear these scarves like a headband, but they are tied a very specific way over our hair, which is almost always in a bun or a braid, and often tightened with a special ring. Is your next trend Arab-chic. Are you going to misappropriate the hijab and subsequently refer to the look as sexy?

We’re precious. Okay. Go ahead, white man, infantilize me some more. I do not know about my heritage, and now I am “precious”. You call children precious, not an entire race of people.

Let’s talk about freedom. How about we discuss these regions of Europe from where your “gypsy” fashions materialized to this so-called art of yours. Since it is mentioned in the article, let’s talk about the Romani of some Central European countries, in particular, since you chose to refer to them.

These Balkan “gypsies” were slaughtered during the Balkan wars and Armenian genocide. Not only were they the forgotten victims of various genocides in the region, but they remain oppressed and marginalized. After the wars, and in the relative peace, their neighborhoods were torched; they were killed and exiled in their own countries. Some are denied access to birth records and other government documents. This has caused a situation, in some countries, where they cannot leave. They remain trapped, in poverty, with no way to receive health care, send their children to school, or get jobs.
Indirect genocide, is what I call it. In the decades to come, many “gypsy” communities will slowly, but surely, die out.

This is personal. My family, on my father’s side, is from a region of Europe called Mačva. Now a part of Serbia, Mačva was once owned by Hungary. The region once had a relatively sizeable Romani population. They are a branch of the Romani tribe called the Lovari. We are so identified by this region that we named ourselves for having lived there; the Lovari- Mačvaya. We were slaves in Mačva; we fell into the same period of enslavement as Romani of Romania. After nearly five hundred years of slavery, when our people were liberated, many, such as my own family, fled to South America & the United States. Those who remained were subjected to the genocidal policies of Hitler during the Second World War. The survivors of the Holocaust, what we call the Porrajmos, were then subject to further genocide during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The Mačvaya are a dying people. My flesh and blood, my very own “gypsy” tribe is on the cusp of extinction.

How about these “boho” Romani? You so assuredly state, “[…]
‘Gypsy’ is a catchall term for everything bohemian”.

Bohemia is a region of the Czech Republic. My family has tread this land, too. I am from a family called the Turcsiks. They mostly resided in Hungary, but my particular ancestors settled in Mačva. Even so, this family of mine lived for hundreds of years in this region of Europe; Hungary, Serbia, and the Czech Republic. When Hitler rose to power in Germany, he herded my family like animals into cattle cars and sent them to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Hodonin and Lety, that is, those who were not the victims of the mass murders in the killing fields.

There were once Lovari in the Czech Republic. There were once great and large Romani vitsas. Just like in Serbia, much of my own “tribe” was killed in this region. There are no more Turcsiks in the Czech Republic. There are no Turcsiks left in Mačva. There are very few Turcsiks alive in Hungary. This family continues to suffer from oppression, racism, even violence that has taken the lives of innocent children.

Then there is my mother’s side. The Polska Romani, much like the “gypsies” of Russia, they are the epitome of this stereotypical “gypsy” fashion you know nothing about. My mother’s family happened to live in Vilnius, Lithuania. They likely never made it to Auschwitz, Dachau, Marzahn or any of the other concentration or extermination camps. Denial. Lithuanians deny the number of Jews they killed. They deny the number of Romani they killed. The extermination of Romani in Lithuania & Poland receives little attention. There are no numbers to be found. We only know the extent of the massacres because the Romani populations in this region have never recovered. These “gypsies” of Lithuania, my very own extended family, number less than five thousand.

Perhaps the dress that should be appropriated for Romani of Europe consists of black and white stripes ornately adorned with a black triangle. But, this free and precious little “gypsy” of yours certainly knows nothing of her own heritage.

Tear out my still beating heart, white man. Shred it into pieces. Just make certain when you bury me, I am standing.

(Source: big-gadje-world)


Romani or Roma? Which word is correct? (Lisa Ashley Antolčič)

Lisa Ashley Antolčič

Yesterday, I read a very interesting post on how we should inform English speaking non-Romani to refer to us. I never think twice when I tell English speaking individuals to kindly refer to us as Romani instead of “gypsy”. It is natural for me to interchange Romani, Roma & Rom appropriately while speaking English because I also speak Romanes, the language of the Romani people. However, I never thought that doing so could lead to confusion as to how we should be called in English. 
The blog post I read was written by a Romani person, but done so from the perspective of an English speaking non-Romani. Though the post was written somewhat out of frustration, the explanation of why Romani, Roma & Rom cannot be used interchangeably was excellent. I thought I should share the content of this post in my own words. 

When speaking English, we should be called the Romani people. Romani means “person” or “human” in our own language. It is how we call ourselves in Romanes. Romani refers to the entire ethnic population, from the Romanichal to the Kalderash to the Lovari to the Roma.

The Roma? The Roma, also spelled Rroma by some, are a sub-group of the Romani people who live in Central & Eastern Europe & parts of the Balkans. Our population is often mistakenly called the Roma. While it is far more appropriate than calling us “gypsy”, it is still incorrect. 

In Romanes, the word Roma means woman. In English, the word Roma has two meanings. Roma, as stated above, refers to a Romani sub-group. Roma is also used as an adjective. Often, people who speak Romanes will talk about an ethnic Romani female as a “Roma girl” or “Roma woman”. This is out of habit & is done to signify we are discussing someone who belongs to the Romani ethnicity, and not a non-Romani individual. The same habit is applied to speaking about ethnic Romani men; we often say “Rom boy” or “Rom man”. Rom means man in our language. 

These habits, however, are only half-correct, linguistically. We have our own words for a Romani girl, woman, boy and man, and for a non-Romani girl, woman, boy and man. When we speak English to non-Romani, or Romani who do not speak Romanes, they would not understand what is meant by words such as chej, raklo, chavorale or gadje. Thus, we signify the ethnicity of whom we are talking about by using Roma, Rom, or Romani as adjectives. 

Using Roma or Rom to refer to our entire population is wrong. When we say, “the Roma people”, we refer specifically to a Romani sub-group. When articles are written about “the Roma people”, they often try to refer to the entire population. This is not only wrong, but leads to confusion. 

When we are consistently referred to as “the Roma people” by mistake, it not only causes issues when we want to refer to the Roma sub-group, but also signifies exclusion. When we say Romani, it incorporates all sub-groups; Roma, Lovari, Romanichal, Sinti, Kale, Kalderash, Gurbeti, Ludari, Xoraxane, and so on. We often see articles & scholarly works that refer to the “Roma & Sinti”. This specifies that only two Romani sub-groups are being discussed. It also places the Sinti, who are a Romani sub-group, outside the realm of being Romani. Saying “the Roma people” or the “Roma & Sinti” discounts all other Romani sub-groups. 

As you can now see, calling us Roma can be problematic. However, now you know how to appropriately & correctly use these terms. Kindly, call us the Romani people.