NOTES FOR AMERICANS WHO HAVE ADOPTED ROMANIAN GYPSY BABIES
(First circulated in 1993)
Many American couples have been lucky enough to adopt babies from, Romania; perhaps as many as ten thousand. Among them are parents who decided not to adopt just a Romanian baby, but a Romanian Gypsy baby; these couples are in an interesting and unusual situation. Some of those children look different from their new parents; presumably all of them, however, will one day learn that they are adopted, and will want to know what they are. Whether they are dark or fair, they are all Gypsies, and they have a very special and fascinating history, one you will want to learn about and pass on to them.
If you think back, there was probably never a time when you didnt have some image in your mind about Gypsies and, if you were to describe a Gypsy, your picture would probably have been rather romantic. Perhaps the Gypsies you saw in Romania came as a surprise, being so different from what Hollywood and the novelists would have you believe. Indeed, there are many people in this country who are quite unaware that there are over a million Gypsy Americans here already, and that Gypsies first arrived in the New World with Columbus on his third voyage in 1498. But since they dont look like the fictional stereotype, they remain invisible, passing as southern Europeans, or Mexican Americans, or Native Indiansbut not usually as what they really are.
So what is a Gypsy? First of all, this is not the best word to use (but if you do use it, write it with a capital G; its a proper noun). Apart from the (usually negative, and often inaccurate) associations the word immediately prompts, it comes from Egyptian, because this is the country the Europeans thought they were from. So its historically inaccurate as well. To complicate matters, the proper word for a Gypsy is Romani, which is easily confused with Romania. But there is no connection whatsoever; in the Gypsy language (also called Romani), the word Rom means married man or Gypsy, and Romani is simply derived from that. Its plural is Roma or sometimes also just Rom in the kind of Romani spoken in Romania (because of pressure from the Romanian government, the new spelling Rrom is now becoming current, to emphasize the difference between the two populations).
The original homeland of the Romanies was India. You have probably looked up Gypsies in this or that encyclopedia and read different accounts of who the original Romanies were and why they left India in the first place. But nothing you have read is accurate. If anything characterizes writings about Romanies, it is the extent to which they are just plain wrongespecially the older material, so be very careful what you read. Luckily, in recent years historians and linguists in India itself have begun to explore Romani history, and we now have more of the details of this remarkable history.
The first Gypsies were warriors, troops who were put together by the Indian king to resist the spread of Islam into north-western India. These warriors were called Rajputs, and they were made up of non-Aryan peoples and given honorary kshattriya (warrior caste) status. Two of the words in the Romani language which mean non-Gypsy, gadjo and das, meant civilian and captive taken in war respectively, in the original Sanskrit. They moved westwards out of India about a thousand years ago and entered Europe after a long stay in the Byzantine Empire (where Turkey now is) in the latter part of the 13th century, also because of the spread of Islam. We know this not only because of historical clues, but because the basically-Indian Romani language contains words from Persian and Byzantine Greek picked up along its route to the West.
Once in Europe, some of the population kept on going, reaching all of the northern and western countries by 1500, while others remained in the Balkans, where Romania now is, to work. This splitting-up of the population is why today, Gypsies in England are different from those in Spain, and those in Romania different from those in Germany. But theyre all Gypsies.
The work which the Romanies were doing in medieval Romania (mainly as metalworkers) was so valuable to the economy, that their employers could not afford to lose them. As time passed, legislation became enacted making those Romanies the property of their owners, in other words, slaves. This slavery became harsher and harsher, and wasnt completely abolished until 1864, the same year that African slavery was abolished in this country. After abolition, attitudes towards the freed Romani slaves didnt improve, and ever since then Gypsies in Romania have remained at the bottom of the social tructure. It was bad for Gypsies everywhere else in Europe too; Hitler tried to exterminate the entire Romani population during the Holocaust, destroying about 75% of those in Nazi-controlled Europe by 1945. Right now  Germany is forcibly sending Romani asylum seekers back to Romania in handcuffs, and paid that country $S1 minion to take them.
In Romania, Gypsies make up about 15% of the national population. In some of the state institutions and orphanages, however, they are as many as 80%. So why such a disproportionate numberover five times the national average? We are beginning to find out that Ceauescu was responsible for this. We have learned that he was consumed with idea of creating a perfect Romanian race; he believed that the true Romanians descended from the Roman legionnaires and the original Dacians, and that other peoples in his territoryHungarians, Gypsies, Bulgarians, etc.were deviant populations who stood in the way of his dream. Despite what the Nazis did to Romania, he idolized Hitler and copied his mannerisms. He wanted to breed his pure Romanians but also what one CNN report called a robot work force out of the Gypsies, to work for them; and like the ancient Spartans, the weak and imperfect babies in each population were allowed simply to die. The official name for such infants was irrecuperables. Women were not allowed to use birth control, and those having many children were made into national heroes.
A recent report published in Sweden tells of the thousands of Romanian women who died trying to induce abortions, because of this ban on birth control. A secret videotape made by Hans Hunink of the human rights organization Terre des Hommes shows a huge mass grave, as big as four ootball fields, near Riu Vadului, filled with the bodies of those irrecuperable children who were left to perish. In his report, Hunink estimated that the death rate in those places was as high as 65% per annum. When Michael Jackson returned from his successful Romanian tour last year, he said that he wanted to adopt a Romanian baby, But I want to adopt a Gypsy baby, he said, because the Gypsies are treated so badlyover there."
Romani people are not ethnic Romanians (though of course their nationality is Romanian and they are Romanians in that sense), and it would be taking the wrong path to read up about specifically Romanian culturetheir songs, food, customs and so on, in order to introduce your children to them later on. Remember, the Romanians have kept Romanies at arms length for hundreds of years, and each populations culture, language and so on are very different. This is especially true in the areas of hygiene, spirituality and food preparation. Romani dress, music and folklore also differs from that of the ethnic Romanians, although it has contributed greatly to it, just as African Americans have contributed to American culture.
When your children ask who they are and what they are, it is so important that they be given positive information, facts that will make them proud of themselves. Gypsies get a very bad deal in the American media, and it is sometimes hard for Romani children to understand the image the media promotes. Last year , The New York Times published the results of two surveys of negative American attitudes to 58 different ethnic groups in this country over a 25 year period, and both times Gypsies were at the very bottom of the list. And this is in a country where most people dont even know what a Gypsy is; popular attitudes are obviously based not on familiarity with the real population, but with the Gypsy image. So you can see that prejudices run deep. Before the children are older, we should put some kind of pressure on television shows (like Americas Most Wanted or Geraldo, or even 20/20 or 60 Minutes - theyre all guilty) to present Romani Americans accurately and fairly. In the past couple of months two anti-Romani novels have appeared, Joe Gores 22 Cadillacs (Mysterious Press), which calls Romanies (it says Gyppoes) scammers, liars, one nation united in street rime on the dust jacket; the other is Julian Thompsons Gypsy-world, which is about a Gypsy couple which drugs and kidnaps children. Blockbuster ideo has just re-released Peter Maas terrible movie King of the Gypsies, and worst of all, the movie version of Stephen Kings novel Thinner is well under way. Walt Disney, who made the character who stole Pinocchio in the book a Gypsy in his cartoon version, has a new stereotype appearing in 1996Esmereldain the cartoon version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Two books from publishing houses specialising in law enforcement publications appeared in 1994: Joe Morris Master Criminals Among the Gypsies (Palmer Press, Encino) and Marlock and Downings License to Steal (Paladin Press, Boulder). Even Hallmark Cards have just come out with a birthday card, complete with nasty illustration, which says Brother, now that youre all grown up, I think you ought to know the truth . . . you were left on the doorstep by gypsies. It is very painful for us who are both Romanies and parents to watch our own children reacting to this prejudice. But together, we can bring pressure to bear and stop this hurtful exploitation of the Gypsy image. The Romani Union has a media watch committee you can join, and we have already had many successes in combating this sort of racism.
Use the proper words, Romani and Romanies, as much as you can, rather that Gypsy.
Make it clear that Gypsy is a misnomer. Point out how determined and resourceful Romanies must be to have survived as a people for hundreds of years, without a country and in the face of terrible persecution.
Point out the contributions people of Romani descent have made to the world: Charlie Chaplin, Rita Hayworth, Michael Caine, Yul Brynner, Django Reinhardt, Carlos Montoya, Birelli Lagrene, Bob Hoskins, and according to some sources Picasso, Paul Bunyan, Mother Teresa and Ava Gardner, all qualify.
It will be difficult for your children to fit easily into existing Romani American life. Just as you probably are unaware of the Romani families in your area, so your children will be unaware too, and if they dont understand the language and appropriate cultural behavior, then even knowing them wont really help. On the other hand, if your child were keen to socialize with, or (in the long term) consider a marriage partner from, the Romani community, then that might not be entirely impossible either. Romani culture is called Romniya (romm-uh-NEE-yuh), and a discussion of that would fill a whole book. Learning the language is also important if they want to become a part of the Gypsy world in America. But with love and support from you, all of these things are possible and can be made available.
Some of us have discussed the organization of a national workshop or seminar for adoptive parents of Romani children. If enough of you demonstrate an interest, perhaps we can make it happen. The main contact among the American families on the east coast is Ms. Mary Thomas, 1S06 Hillside Terrace, Alexandria, VA 22302 (703-548-3061). In the Midwest contact Ms. Denise Healey, 907 North Grove, Oak Park, IL 60302 (708-386-135S) and on the west coast Ms. Brenda Sanders, 3729 Myrtle St., Long Beach, CA 90807.
A grammar of the Romani language is Ian Hancocks A Handbook of Vlax Romani (Slavica Publications, Columbus 1995, ISBN 0-89357-258-6) and a general introduction to European Romanies is his We Are the Romani People (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2002, ISBN 1-902806-19- 0).The best Romani website is Patrin (http://www.geocities/Paris/5121/patrin.htm).