The Gypsy in Me by Cristiana Grigore(New York Times)
“I am Roma, but for many years I denied my origins for fear of being called a Gypsy. I grew up in Romania, where one meaning of tigan — tzigane, Zigeuner, cigány, cigan, ‘Gypsy’ in other European languages — is ‘a person who engages in harmful or illegal activities.’ The name comes from a medieval Greek word that means ‘untouchable,’ and derivatives — like ‘gypped’ or ‘gypsy cab’ — refer to stealing and cheating.
“My parents and grandparents were well aware of the negative stereotypes of the Gypsies as rootless thieves and beggars, and they took pains to protect me. As a little girl, my mother dressed me in pale colors and cut my hair short so I would not look like a Gypsy. My father warned me never to steal, and to always associate with smart people. I can understand why my grandfather, a blacksmith, was so proud of buying a ‘corner of the village’ and building houses for his children. My grandmother was a healer — not through magical powers but by volunteering to take people to the best doctors in the capital.
“Still, all these efforts couldn’t stop my classmates’ parents from reproaching my first-grade teacher for giving the highest award to me, a Gypsy. That confirmed my grandfather’s belief that there is no use acting ‘as if I were an official from the Ministry,’ as he would put it, since there was ‘no such thing as a Gypsy teacher, priest or lawyer.’ He too wanted to be like ‘the others,’ but he was also aware of the invisible limits that kept Gypsies separate. [...]
“About 700 years ago, when the Roma first entered Europe, the locals assumed the dark-skinned people were from Egypt — hence the English ‘Gypsies.’ In fact, they originally came from northern India, and ‘Roma’ is what they called themselves. [...]
“My family didn’t speak Romani or follow the nomadic lifestyle. However, my grandfather was a blacksmith, a common Romani occupation. My mother’s light skin allowed me to conceal my roots, but my father, whose darker skin would have drawn attention, avoided coming around my school.
“Today, most Roma are settled, like my family, but they have not yet found their place in the world. A majority of the Roma cannot find jobs, decent housing or decent medical care. Many Romani children do not attend school; according to a 2011 Unicef report, only about a fifth of Romani children in Europe attend primary school. And many of those who do are bullied and do not dream of becoming professionals or earning awards.
“Many Roma continue to roam. Some do so, because settling down would mean losing their source of livelihood; others because they have no place to go. As the poorest and most stigmatized people in Europe, they have no choice but to remain on the fringes. Whatever the advantages of permanent settlement, they are dwarfed by immediate needs.”