Roma

So I haven’t really written at length about my cultural background. One reason for that is because diaspora makes one insecure. My family comes from very mixed ancestry, but one branch of that tree is Romani. I was raised with some of our traditions, especially religious ones. But a lot of it has been lost to assimilation, genocide, displacement and other such factors.

I don’t know where we originally came from. With each generation, my family moves further and further East as I trace them back. A hundred years ago, almost all my relatives were metalworkers, and our name traces back to either the Balkans or the Ukraine.

These are clues that would indicate I’m Kalderashi. Gypsies have a lot of different peoples based on certain customs, geography, history and language. Everyone speaks Chib, which means “Tongue.” But in different dialects.

I suppose I could compare it to how there’s many different kinds of Jews. Like Ashkenazi, or Mizrahi. I suspect for similar reasons too given the commonalities between Jewish and Gypsy life and society for so many centuries.

People often think we’re from Romania, which is an understandable misconception, but not entirely true. Romania has a very large gypsy population, but no bigger than that in Spain or the United States. And also Romania sounds similar to Roma, and there has always been lots of gypsies in the Balkans. Not just Romania, but everywhere.

Our place of origin is actually Rajasthan of northern India. Before Europe, we lived in a deeply impoverished area and the Brahmin, or Indian nobility, would treat us like slaves. We were among the lowest castes. That’s why my ancestors went to Europe in search of a better home.

There are a lot of attempts to classify gypsies in contemporary racial theory, and all attempts to do so have failed. This is because of the Romanipen. Gypsy identity comes from culture and tradition, not phenotypes or blood units, or complexion. Language, religion and honour are the most important criteria.

The Romanipen is structured around three vital principles. First one is to respect elders. Second one is to care for the young. Third one is harder to explain, but it has to do with purity. It’s not just about surviving, but also to be civilised in doing so. No matter how barbaric others are, you never resort to barbarism yourself.

This is why we often become inconvenient to racists. Because the Romanipen guarantees full children’s rights. Every child has the right to care and love and a family. So when an orphan is found, they are always invited to join the family. No exceptions. As a result, Romani peoples have just about every genetic makeup imaginable. We exist in every colour, and with every appearance. That really gets on people’s nerves.

On top of that, since the Romanipen exists in parallel to religious convictions, it means there are Hindu gypsies, Muslim gypsies, Jewish gypsies, Christian gypsies and Buddhist gypsies. We practice every faith in the world.

And with more and more of us integrating into modern society, it gets more and more difficult for racists to actually tell us apart from other compatriots.

There are many differing interpretations and understandings of the Romanipen in terms of practice, social organising and history. You have modernist understandings which became popular among gypsies in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. These nations granted us equal treatment under the law, something that had never happened before.

We were also recognised under the Soviet constitution as a culture, which meant theatre, literature, cultural studies and lots of other things that allowed us to find a home after spending 1500 years searching for one.

Similar things also happened in Yugoslavia. Although many also chose to keep wandering and maintain the old ways. Traditional gypsies are often very influenced by Indian and Hindu culture. On some level we all are, but they are so especially. They take purity in very literal ways, and have lots of elaborate social codes as to permit them to coexist in what is often a very closely knit communal life.

To an outsider a lot of these rules may seem superstitious, but they make a lot of sense when you account for how you have usually as many as 4 generations of people living together day and night with very little room for a private life. These rules create boundaries and expectations, two very important things to avoid family conflict.

These nomadic groups often have intricate diplomatic networks, they gather in congresses, and they have their own legal systems. Many think they are just roving bands of refugees, but there is more than meets the eye.

I don’t know a lot about them besides the stories from my mother. Her and her grandmother knew a lot of people from Romanistan. That’s our word for this nation without borders by the way, any time you step into a gypsy commune, you’re in Romanistan.

Of course traditionalism in Roma culture has the same issues like any other traditionalism. There are elements of ethnic chauvinism, homophobia, lack of women’s rights, and similar problems. But they obviously develop and resolve themselves overtime just like in any other society. I just add this caveat since traditional gypsy life is often romanticised.

But there is a reason why the majority of Romani peoples have given up on this. Our traditions were coping mechanisms after spending centuries as refugees. The goal has always been to find a better life and a real home.

A lot of traditionalists however enjoy the political influence and status quo that’s been given to them throughout history, and so there is this reactionary element that tries to suggest that all other Europeans are barbarians and that their societies are tainted and that anyone who touches them also becomes a barbarian. It’s total nonsense.

When gypsies joined the Soviet Union we got great writers, artists, scientists, war heroes and whatever else people might do in a prosperous society. There was never any barbarism, and people weren’t tainted.

I think the only people I’ve seen be corrupted by western culture are those who become involved in western politics, especially progressive politics. They love to market gypsies as weak and pathetic racial minorities who need handouts and pity from educated middle class people.

I find this narrative so distasteful because why is it always the people who get enslaved that are considered weak? Why is it the people who work twice as hard, who sacrifice lifetimes of labour, wealth and happiness, just to sustain a wealthy parasite, who are objects of such pity?

There are Swiss banks who store bullion made from the golden dentures pried from the mouths of the dead at Auschwitz. I’d say that this is a testament to the weakness of western Europe, not the people who have carried them. We don’t need to be educated or civilised. We just need to be left alone so that we may prosper unhindered by the burdens of war, monarchism, capitalism and fascism.

But these “representatives” take funding from NGOs, and they love to try and fit us in to western racial essentialism and make a mockery of the Romanipen by presenting us as an ethnic stereotype. That we’re all illiterate beggars who need to be civilised by liberals, landlords, social workers and capitalists. It’s disgusting how they are willing to debase themselves for money like that.

Don’t get me wrong, we like commerce, and trade and business and crafts. Trading has been a great provider for most of our history. But capitalism is another story. We believe that if you do good work, then you deserve a fair share of its rewards.

But capitalism is when you give an employee a small fraction of what they contribute in the form of a wage, and then keep the lion’s share of their economic output to expand the business and make the rich people at the top even richer. That’s stealing from innocent people, there’s no honour in that.

We don’t want to start corporations that strip people of their individuality and personal freedoms for 8 hours per day. We don’t want to be landlords after having suffered the persecution of landlords.

Landlords have done just about every violence imaginable to us. From slavery, to pogroms, to lynchings to outright genocide.

The dictatorship of rich people that liberal societies produce is very much what we see as barbarism. It doesn’t matter if someone calls themselves a King or a CEO, because in the end it’s just some unelected jerk who feels entitled to the products of your hard work and who expects you to pay them money for the privilege of existing.

Many barbarians have made the mistake of thinking that existing is a privilege, and none of them have managed to revoke such a privilege from us. Not Hitler, not Mussolini, not Napoleon, not the Chetniks, or the Tsar or NATO’s death squads in Kosovo, not anyone. We always survive, and we always will.

There is no universal idea of how to approach this history, but there is a universal disdain towards its abuses. That’s why traditionalists oppose capitalism with communalism, and modernists do it with Marxism. There’s also an anarchist element, and probably several other ideas. But a gypsy who wants to live in a capitalist society is one that has been indoctrinated and alienated from their past and the many painful lessons we had to learn the hard way.

I always say that under liberalism you got conservatives and progressives, and the difference between the two is that the conservative will stab you in the front, whereas the progressive will stab you in the back. But the only thing liberalism has to offer us is low wage jobs, ghetto economics and prison labour.

There is a great pain in living in diaspora, but also a great gift. Yes, I feel foreign. I have one foot in the East, and one foot in the West. I have been influenced and harmed by many western dangers, such as social democracy, poverty and alcohol. I have always been an outsider looking in. But in doing so, I have also known many other outsiders.

At first I felt like I had no country, but now I feel as though I have every country. Living in migrant areas I’ve gotten to know the many great civilisations of this planet. Especially East Asia, the Arab world, the Balkans and Latin America. It’s helped me relate to others, and walk a mile in just about everyone’s shoes. I am moved by their poetry, fascinated by their history, thankful for their kindness and impressed by their extraordinary achievements.

Another corrupting influence was of course going to a western school, where they teach kids that there’s two kinds of people: The primitive ones and the civilised ones. First world and third world. Developing and Developed. Etc. Etc. But when I actually saw the real world with my own eyes, this was the biggest lie of them all. I have never encountered someone from a culture that didn’t have significant contributions to art, philosophy, technology and human prosperity.

As such, I think the true art of being a gypsy is to find familiarity anywhere, no matter how unfamiliar. To see the good in humanity, and to see how even during the most brutal and dark times, there’s always hope for a better future.

Because if we didn’t believe that, then why keep wandering? We could’ve just killed some tribes, built a kingdom, and been yet another country of war and slaves. But we didn’t. This is because we have bigger things in mind.

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