Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do Gypsies even understand Gypsies? Are there any true traditions anymore?

From the very first day I was old enough to understand what it meant to be Sinti, I knew coming forward and telling people would not be easy. My family spent a huge amount of effort hiding it from us, withholding information, and being secretive...something that is common in their generation and in the culture. It only in the last 6 and 7 years that I truly began to understand what it all meant. And I was right, it wasn't easy. I tried to take direction from my cousins in Germany who showed us what their lives were like, where they hung out, what they listened to (Gypsies love them some Barry White!). They were so defined in who they were and proud of it, that I took that with me to the US. I figured, if the could be that way in a place where, to this day, we aren't aloud in certain clubs and restaurants, then the US would be a great place to be open about my culture. After all, everyone is accepted there. I was surprised at not only the ignorance about Sinti and Roma but the mixed views about them. In one world, you have the metaphysical community and the Renaissance festival type people who only know Gypsies and magical palm readers. Then you have the people who understand the politics but know nothing of the culture. Then you have the people who know the culture but know nothing of the politics. It was clear that anyway you looked at it, the Gypsy people are far from being understood by anyone, including the Gypsies.

When I opened my ebay store, I was suprised I started to get a lot of nasty emails. Not so much from bigots, but from people who claimed Rom or Sinti heritage! They weren't doubting my items, in fact a large amount of my buyers are Rom and Sinti buyers. But they were arguing that my information was incorrect, and that they had the truth. And that truth contradicted that of another person who e-mailed me about their beliefs said to be truth. I had people angry that I used the term Gypsy, feeling it necessary to remind my about the term and where it came from as if I didn't already know. I got on the internet and found even more versions of these "facts". There was 2 shocking realizations to this situation. One was, that Gypsies were fighting among themselves and that wasn't good. And the other, is the secretive and ever changing culture has confused even those within in it. Was there truth to any of these things anymore? Gadje never understood Gypsies. But do Gypsies even understand Gypsies?

I decided to test a theory. I placed an item up on e-bay that I made up. I don't want to embarrass anyone so I wont mention what it was. The point is, I had an item and created a story to it, that was full of ritual and stories and history. I explained the origin and traced it back hundreds of years even. I was surprised that no one called me out on this item! In fact, there was even one Romani who said they haven't seen one of those in a long time! I canceled the bids on it before the auction closed, claiming the item broke because I felt a moral obligation to NOT sell something I knew was a fake. But this confirmed what I had suspected all along. Gypsies did such a good job at misleading gadje, that they have been unable to pass along any tangible traditions to the newer generations. And that these generations, in such a flurry to understand their history, fight with other Gypsies, because they are so afraid of finding out that everything they thought to be true could have simply been a rouse intended for outsiders. That with the many numbers of deaths in the war, and the fear of future persecution, what true traditions died with those victims, are being kept secret by those who survived the war, leaving their children to try and interpret memories they were not old enough to understand, and had to fill in the blanks.

Every country is different, every clan is different, and every family is different. It is pointless at this point to argue because what may be true to one person may not be true to another. The important thing is that what traditions we can get out of the living family members needs to be preserved. What was lost, needs to be rebuilt with new traditions. Traditions we create in our own families that we can pass down. What a tremendous and wonderful responsibility and opportunity my generation now has. The opportunity to make new traditions that will hopefully change the way the world views the Gypsies forever.
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