Essay: Gypsies and Travelers

For generations, culture has evolved greatly on every society and has impacted people differently. In reference to Romani people, they are stereotyped to the word ‘Gypsy’ and viewed as a threat due to their appearances, beliefs and traditions. As a result to social exclusion, Gypsies and Travelers are faced with a wide-range of inequalities and discrimination among their culture group. The study of the Gypsies and Travelers reveal how their culture has experienced unfair treatment within many factors.

In the direction of protecting human rights, Gypsies and Travelers have been a target of discrimination since they migrated from India. Perhaps most of the speculation of where Gypsies originated is the reason why they face longstanding prejudice. During the Middle Ages, after migrating from India Romani Gypsies ‘for unknown reasons became a part of the ethnic mix of many countries, contributing in areas such as music and the arts (Romany Traditions and Culture, 2015)’. In retrospect, Gypsies have common problematic respect in their society just as the African-Americans and the Jews. All were slaved due to racial discrimination, fought for legal status, emancipation and respect for their culture although each were significantly different among each other. During the time of the Holocaust, the Nazi’s made it difficult for Gypsies to overcome racial discrimination because the Roma were Aryans, but in the Nazi mind there were contradictions between what they regarded as the superiority of the Aryan race and their image of the Roma people (Schwartz, Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust: Roma Gypsies)’. Adolf Hitler during his time of power used different techniques to convince the Germans to demolish those that were Aryans in order for Germans to feel superior. ‘The Nazis believed that both the Jews and Gypsies were racially inferior and degenerate and therefore worthless. Like the Jews, the Gypsies were also moved into special areas set up by the Nazis. Half a million Gypsies, almost the entire Eastern European Gypsy population, was wiped out during the Holocaust Schwartz, 2010) ‘. In addition to the Nazis, they also believed that Gypsies would not conform to the ‘norms’ of the dominant culture and believed they carried out ‘asocial’ behavior. In modern society, Gypsies are now a social class that is mixed up with different ethnic groups and have converted to a host of religions such as: Christianity, Catholic, Orthodoxy, Islam, and live worldwide including in the United States.

Within African-American culture, Gypsies have similarities with facing discrimination because of the color of their skin. They have been portrayed as cunning, mysterious outsiders who tell fortunes and steal before moving on to the next town. In fact, the term ‘gypped’ is probably an abbreviation of Gypsy, meaning a sly, unscrupulous person, according to NPR (For Traveller Women In Ireland, Life Is Changing, 2010)’. However, is the word ‘Gypsy’ just as derogatory and hurtful as the word ‘nigger’? Words like Gypsy have been taken from a person culture to fit in what society believes the context means without researching the historical reputation. In America, an example how ‘Gypsy’ is misrepresented is by recognizing Gypsy as a lifestyle oppose to race and the option for consumers to buy gypsy Halloween costumes. It is also prejudice to use words like nigger, spic, or cracker but the difference from Gypsy is that it depends on what context a person uses it and therefore it is loosely spoken every day within the society.
The 20th century has encouraged the Gypsies and Travelers to adapt to modern life and uphold their traditions from the past without surrendering their culture. Gypsies have unique identities which help keep close ties with their families; Although, family is likely to be important in almost every culture, the Gypsies differ because they maintain their identity by traveling. ‘Historically, they were nomads who moved in caravans and lived in encampments on the side of the road. Their tradition as “tinkers” or tinsmiths, and as the breeders and traders of some of Ireland’s best horses, goes back hundreds of years (For Traveller Women In Ireland, Life Is Changing, 2010).’ This all changed due to society restricting highway stopping on the side of the road and communist years. Another area of difference is that Gypsies are seen traveling in automobiles oppose to traveling in wagons as they did in the past. Nomadism is the way of life for Gypsies and Travelers but those that have moved into residential housing still practice Romani beliefs. Nowadays, Gypsies and Travelers live in residential housing because some have nowhere else to go and need a stable place to live to raise their children. Overall, the Gypsy and Traveler culture seems as they are invading other people’s property or land, they are still exposed to discrimination while they are being accommodated by living a ‘normal’ life by what society believes conventional housing is the way they should live. Travelers are ordinary people, that want the same rights, the same things as non-Travelers, but they live in trailers, they don’t like closed spaces, they love openness, its sense of freedom. One reason Gypsies and Travelers believe in isolation is because they feel racism still goes on today and while living the ‘normal life’, neighbors might not accept them for who they are. Through Nomadism, if Gypsy and Travelers have moved into housing, their culture is still practiced through their children because they want them to experience traveling in the future. In the modern life, Romani people are examples of how one culture can adapt to changes in order to take care of their family.

In the 19th century Gypsy and Travelers worked for or with their family members without depending on a source of income. If women Gypsies were not taking care of the household, some partake in selling lace clothes pegs or fortune telling. Fortune telling is an old tradition for the Gypsies and part of the life of employment for Gypsies and Travelers. Fortune telling is a controversial subject towards other cultures because they view this work as a superstition and it goes against many religious beliefs. In United States, some statutes prohibit fortune tellers or make them pay a expensive amount for annual licensing to control Gypsies. Unfortunately, this is also prejudice because some people do not want Gypsy and Travelers in their community and by keeping tabs on Gypsies or travelers it takes away their nomadic lifestyle. Meanwhile, today most Gypsy and Travelers prefer ‘to live near built-up areas for the same reasons as other people, to access economic opportunities, health care, schools and shops. Another important aspect of Gypsy and Traveler culture is that they are responsible for paying taxes like everyone else, even for licensing. They have engaged in other occupations as-mentors, police officers, managers and in result increased the ability to seek education. In the past, children of Gypsy and Traveler culture were unable to commit to the attendance and achieving a stable education because of the constant travel. Even if Gypsies and Travelers have not resisted to the modern changes, the Romani children still face discrimination because some countries segregate the children in schools or pupils bully them because of what Gypsy children believe in.
Typically, Gypsy and Travelers are known for their bright colored clothing and patriarchal traditions but now even though they are looked ‘down on’ Americans are inspired by their clothing. In fall 2008, Giorgio Armani’s fall collection was inspired by the Gypsy and Traveler Western culture. Although, by designing clothes from a culture that is constantly discriminated it speaks to the capitalist society that people are not always ethical and Gypsies have blended their ethnic style towards other cultures. In Gypsy and Traveler culture ‘weddings are huge affairs with large, custom-made wedding dresses. Often, the girls in a group will compete to see who can have the largest, most extravagant wedding dress. Some of this has been documented in the American show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (Bradford, 2015).’ Non-Gypsies and non-Travelers who see Gypsies on the television such ad My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, can easily segregate the Gypsy and Traveler traditions with arrogance because they are not looking at the context of who Gypsies really are but a portion of one tradition they believe in-fashionable clothes for a wedding.
In comparison to other cultures, Gypsy and travelers have modern cultural customs within their community. Gypsies have important rolls to fill in terms with events such as weddings, funerals, birth of a child and other family gatherings. As a Gypsy woman, they participate in traditional dances for celebrations. Nonetheless, Christians, Catholics or a host of other religions participate in several of gatherings too whether it is cooking food or dancing. ‘Many Americans have romanticized Gypsies as exotic foreigners and draw on the supposedly romantic appeals of Gypsy traditions’especially traditions of dancing and music-making, lives on the road, and maintaining a traveling culture (Heimlich, Gypsy Americans) ‘.
During the study of Gypsies and Travelers their culture has been misrepresented and looked upon as immigrants that are not wanted due to their beliefs and customs. Overall, Gypsies and Travelers have established how to live during the modern times, although their culture has suffered much racial prejudice, enslavement, and social oppression. Stereotyping will remain throughout many years to come but that does not stop Gypsy and Travelers from believing but to steady grow as a positive ethnic group to all societies and adapt without surrendering their identity.

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