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.