“I want my audience to feel that they are constantly traveling with their ears.” —Tatiana Eva-Marie
Read the interview “Tatiana Eva-Marie on the harmonious fusion of Romani ‘Gypsy’ music” in Quail Bell Magazine and find out what she has to say about Romani music and representation, how her multicultural heritage shapes her art, growing up in theatres and concert halls all over Europe, the Music Explorer competition/documentary (click the heart to vote for her!), and her life in the Avalon Jazz Band in New York City. You can also listen to some beautiful songs from the competition. Opre Roma!
Today we celebrate the Roma. We celebrate the plates of food we leave for our ancestors to keep them loved and fed even in death. We cover mirrors, TV and computer screens, and bowls of water after someone dies, just long enough so that they are not trapped by their own reflection as they pass through the veils. We keep our homes and our bodies meticulously clean because the world is split into that which is pure and impure. The spirit is pure; that’s what we want to be. We believe in kintala, or karma, because what we do matters and we mean to do good. We love The Goddess of Fate and her many names and forms, Sati-Sara, Sara Kali, St. Sarah, The Black Madonna; and we believe in free will.
We remind you that “Roma” is our preferred term, not “Gypsy,” a name that has been turned against us, warped into “gypped,” gyppo,” and the lowercase “gypsy,” the one that doesn’t recognize us as a proper noun, never mind a proper ethnic group. We celebrate that some of us chose to reclaim the word as we wish. We remind you that we, as a culture, are fractured by distance, persecution, and illegal deportation, and we are working to unify, to overcome discord and fight for our basic human rights. We celebrate that we are not homogenous and yet, we are united by our origin. We came from India, migrated in the 11th century, and the Rromanes (Romani language) root is Sanskrit. We are different clans—Kale, Kalderash, Lovara, Sinti, Manouche, Vlach, and many more, all with unique customs, dialects, and worldviews. We are individuals: rich, poor, artists, lawyers, blacksmiths, fortune tellers, musicians, doctors, dancers, mechanics, horse dealers, car dealers, janitors, politicians, activists, writers, professors, actors, executives, beggars, volunteers, producers, landlords, and linguists. Opre Roma: we rise up. We are loving friends, partners, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. To say “I love you” we say, “I eat your heart” or “I eat your belly” because love is voracious and can never be close enough.
My grandmother survived WWII Germany as a Romani woman. Now she likes to say, “I am a weed. No one wanted me, they tried to destroy me, but I grew. I am a weed and I’m proud. And I’ve always liked weeds best, anyway. Wild, strong, and very pretty.”
Today we raise awareness that half of Europe’s Romani population died in the Holocaust, what we call O Porrajmos (The Great Devouring), and 2 million Romani lives lost is a modest estimation. We are rarely invited to or acknowledged in Holocaust remembrances or memorials. Sometimes we are not even allowed in the gates. We remind you that Roma were slaves alongside African Americans in the United States, and in the Balkans for four centuries. We are forcibly sterilized in Europe and the U.S., alongside Native Americans and African-Americans. We remind you that the government takes Romani children in the United States and Europe from their families because it is assumed that Roma cannot be decent, loving parents. We remind you that America has “Gypsy Crime” task forces that decide Romani fortune tellers are scammers and white fortune tellers are not. America, the country that swears to the flag not to indulge in racial profiling, blatantly profiles its Roma, just like Europe. We remind you that skinheads set Romani encampments on fire across Europe with Molotov cocktails, burning men, women, and children in their beds. We remind you of the Jobbik Party. Roma are forced into camps with no running water, waste management, electricity, or shelter. Roma are denied a right to education, or forced into special education classes because it is assumed we are mentally deficient. Amnesty calls the Romani human rights crisis “Europe’s shame,” and Roma endure hate crimes, are not allowed in shops, and are kicked out of countries because the politicians believe we cannot assimilate, that we are vermin, that Hitler didn’t kill enough of us. We remind you that Roma say, “Fuck you, Fascists. We rise up.” You learned none of this in school.
You see why I cannot be quiet when we are misrepresented and mistreated. She is my community and I am hers, and I am ill-equipped. So I write about fashion, take pictures, and tell stories I cannot show her because they make her too sad. I talk with my friends. I teach a class. I get angry on social media. I worry that none of it means anything but I keep talking, keep writing.
Today we celebrate Romani writers, activists, artists, and professionals who show the world who the Real Gypsy Warriors are: Dr. Ian Hancock, Oksana Marafioti, Morgan Ahern, Rajko Ðjurić, Ronald Lee, Lita Cabellut, Papusza, Mariella Mehr, Romani Rose… to count them would be reductive. Please, discover. We celebrate the language that’s been beaten out of so many Roma that it threatens to disappear. Please, revive.
We celebrate that we are not slutty Halloween costumes or tambourine vamps. We are not spell casters, scapegoats, child-stealers, criminals, or exotic props for stories. We remind you that you cannot decide to be a Gypsy. It is not a lifestyle choice. It is not whimsy. Nomadism was born from persecution, not some lighthearted folly. We are not a brand like Gypsy Warrior, Junk Gypsy, Band of Gypsies, and Spell and the Gypsy Collective make us out to be. We are not fantasies to be appropriated and exploited—we don’t care that retailers think it’s beautiful to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and diminish the human rights crisis. We don’t care that they didn’t know better. We’d appreciate it if you remind them of that via letters, email, Twitter, and Facebook . Respond to articles and writers who slander us. Be a voice of reason and education. The silence of the privileged is a choice whereas the silence of the oppressed is a shackle. We appreciate our allies—they speak from a place that we cannot, just as we speak from a place that they cannot. We need both parts.
To be a Gypsy is blood, cultural and traumatic inheritance, and the gorgeous ache you cannot forget. It is Esma Redzepova singing the Romani anthem, “Dzelem, Dzelem” and the fiddle that bows up your bones. It is grilled lamb feast 40 days after the spring equinox for “Ederlezi” and throwing flowers in the river. It is your patient struggle to teach yourself Rromanes by learning that folksong after work, the pleasure of your voice finding words for mommy, daddy, and sacrifice. It is the paprika soup that warms the winter. It’s the fear of others’ reactions. It’s despair when Lady Gaga, Halle Berry, Miley Cyrus, Shakira, and people of influence use the slur “Gypsy.” Even if they don’t realize what they’re saying, it degrades and diminishes, and you can bet that they don’t use the opportunity to discuss Romani oppression. That’s not sexy. You’re angry that you care that much about Miley Cyrus. But really you’re angry because she reminds you how much work there is to be done, that antigypsyism has become idiomatic, and so many gadjé still think cultural appropriation is their right, and the more they do it, the worse it gets.
We remind you that we are people with dignity still fighting for our rights and it shouldn’t be taking this long. We invite you to join us. Celebrate: drink in today like “the water that wanders.”
International Roma Day hashtag activism: #nohatespeech #romarights #RealGypsyWarrior #RomaDay
Suggested Resources for Romani culture and rights:
We are the Romani people by Ian Hancock
Roads of the Roma: a PEN anthology of Gypsy Writers (Threatened Literature Series) Edited by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, and Rajko Ðjurić
INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY – CELEBRATIONS OF A ROMANI EMANCIPATION MOVEMENT BEING BORN
Let us take you through a brief history of how our flag, language and anthem were officially recognized. In the end, embrace with us our diversity and hop on board for our visual journey, ‘from the caravan to the palace’:
Forty-three years have passed since the First World Roma Congress was held in Orpington, near London, in 1971. Officially, 8th of April was ratified as an International Celebration Day during the 4th World Romani Congress held in Poland, in 1990. Since then, this date has had a special place in the calendar of all Roma, as it marks an important moment in the history of the Romani Emancipation Movement. It became the day during which we celebrate the International Roma Day, a day to bring forth our beautiful, diverse culture and traditions, but also one of remembrance. The many hardships Romani people faced along the history, from the early days of their arrival in Europe, to the dire conditions they are still confronted with in today’s society, should not be forgotten in our quest for dignity.
SPEAK OUT! AND BE THE CHANGE On The International Romani Day!
In light of today’s celebration, the International Romani Day, here is a picture with Alina Covaci Taba, one of the 5 women who wished to “Speak Out and Be the Change” and was along-side the Romedia Foundation when the “I’m a Roma woman” campaign started.
“We are five Roma women who wish to build a movement powered by us Roma women to shape our own image and empower ourselves and our communities as we share our experiences, our view of current issues, our vision of the future.”
SPEAK OUT! BE THE CHANGE!
A video history of Romani and Traveller people http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6wSLfGBVGY
What can I do today?
For International Roma Day, use social media to inform your friends and followers about Romani culture and the current fight for Romani rights. You can post about it in your blog and/or take screen shots of your International Roma Day statuses, tweets, Pinterest, and Instagrams. Use hashtags wisely– for example, #nohatespeech, #RealGypsyWarrior, # RomaDay #RomaRights #OpreRoma
You can also take a more active stance, for instance, write articles, organize protests, inform companies like Gypsy Warrior, Junk Gypsy, Band of Gypsies, and Spell and the Gypsy Collective that use the word “Gypsy” and the associated stereotypes as a brand that they are using an ethnic slur, exploiting an oppressed minority, and diminishing the fight for Romani rights. You can do this through email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can address and correct racist, offensive, stereotyping, and misinformed comments and articles about Roma. Social media is a powerful activist tool.
Some of my pieces about Romani rights and representation:
“Gypsy Soul: Romani fashion and the politics of dressing ‘Gypsy’” essay in Quail Bell Magazine
“Real Gypsy Looks” photo shoot in Quail Bell Magazine
“Romani Looks, Romani Blood, Romani Challenges: Blond Gypsy Angels” essay in Quail Bell Magazine
“Free Spirits” photo tale and poem in Quail Bell Magazine
“We Rise Up” Short Story of the Week in Narrative Magazine, Pushcart nominated
“Calling all gypsies! Are you a true Gypsy Warrior? Do you love adventure, dance to the beat of your drum? Create your own trends and believe in the magical moments and never ending fun? If you answered yes to these questions, then hell yea, you are a true Gypsy Warrior! “
To Whom it May Concern,I was offended by the email I received “LOOKBOOK x Gypsy Warrior music festival.” The email begins, “Calling all gypsies [sic]….” First, the word “gypsy,” in the lowercase, is an ethnic slur for the Romani people, an oppressed ethnic group. The company Gypsy Warrior exploits harmful Romani stereotypes to sell a product. In light of the current Romani human rights crisis, which Amnesty International has called “Europe’s shame,” this is a very tactless and offensive move and I am disappointed that LOOKBOOK is joining in with the exploitation. For more about the Romani human rights crisis: http://www.amnesty.org/en/roma. To take the word “Gypsy” and turn it into a romanticized consumerist image, it makes a costume out of an ethnic group and a culture. “Gypsy Warrior” is as tasteless and offensive as “Jew Warrior” or “Asian Warrior.” This is especially problematic when so many Americans have no idea that Romani people are actually people and not some figment of fantasy or a lifestyle choice, as the media repeatedly suggests. Roma were murdered, en masse, in the Holocaust. They were slaves alongside African Americans in America. They were slaves for four centuries in Europe. Romani people today are denied safe housing, education, health care, and jobs. Antigypsyists bomb the settlements that Roma are forced to live in without electricity or plumbing. Police in Europe in America target and brutalize Roma because of their ethnicity. Romani women suffer frced sterilization at the hands of their government. Romani mortality rates are significantly higher than non-Roma. This is not the glamorous “Gypsy Warrior” that the media likes to draw, and the constant perpetuation of “Gypsy” costume, sexualization, and romanticization belittles and obscures the real and desperate fight for Romani rights. For this reason, I will no longer be part of LOOKBOOK’s mailing list. As a Romani woman and a humanitarian, I am offended and disappointed.Sincerely,Jessica Reidy
I got to do a photo shoot for Quail Bell Magazine! http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/3/post/2014/02/fashion-romanipen.html
It’s the accompanying piece to my essay, “Gypsy Soul: Romani Fashion and the Politics of Dressing Gypsy.” http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/3/post/2013/12/folkways-gypsy-soul.html
And it was so ridiculously fun. My husband, Len Reidy, took all the photos and I got to prance around in Orlando and put together outfits from thrift finds, family heirlooms, and Modcloth to create more genuine Romani ensembles. The link has all of the photos put I thought I’d post one here for some color too.
First appeared in Quail Bell Magazine.
My friend, fantastic fiction writer Richard Garn, says I look like Bonnie Parker in that photo and that absolutely tickled me. He says all I need is a cigar and a gun. Word.
Thanks Quail Bell for being so great to me!
I’m so thankful to have my article published in Quail Bell Magazine http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/3/post/2013/12/folkways-gypsy-soul.html!
I’ve had a lot of fun writing about Romani culture in QBM and I’m looking forward to being a regular contributor. This article is the culmination of flipping through countless magazines, many tumblrs, pinterest pins, fashion blogs, and saying “THIS ISN’T GYPSY FASHION!” aloud to myself in various humors of rage and hilarity. It’s also the culmination of endlessly reading people who do know what they’re talking about, like Dr. Ian Hancock, Oksana Marafioti, and others; talking with intelligent friends about the topic at length (thanks, guys) at parties and in class; working with my bright bunch of students; and staring at the photo of great-great grandmother Mathilde, the last dancer in the family, unless you count me (and usually I don’t). Basically, it’s a whole lot of love for Erika Varga, real Romani fashion, and a desire to create a dialogue about the politics of “dressing Gypsy” and the harm that comes from perpetuating stereotypes through fashion and popular culture. The next time magazines like Vogue or Cosmopolitan feature a “Gypsy” photoset, I hope that they talk about Romani fashion and culture, because frankly, all moral questions aside (although they are frightfully important), it’s a lot more interesting than the usual nonsense that passes for “Gypsy” style.
Here are some of Varga’s Romani Design creations for you to get excited about: