Gypsies: Getting Past the Stereotypes

Despite the obvious good intentions in the opinion-page article "Little Has Changed: Gypsies Still Marginalized," July 3, it is rife with misinformation. We do not consider ourselves "ancient and mysterious"; this is a stereotype perpetuated by the non-Romani world. Our ancestors reached Persia in the 11th century, not the 10th. The author's description of that period has been confused with the Firdausi account - demonstrably unconnected with the 11th century migration - since it involved an entirely different population five centuries earlier.

"Batches" of our people were transported overseas, but that began much earlier than the 17th century. The statement of our numbers in the US is a gross underestimation, and there are, incidentally, far more than 20,000 of us in the Czech Republic.

Our language is only incomprehensible because people haven't learned it; so would French be if one's neighbors didn't know it. Romani (not Romany) is a widely written language. There are plenty of Romani dictionaries and grammar books; I have written one myself.

"Tinkers" are not Roma; they are a white population of Irish origin. It is true that our people were targeted as victims of the Final Solution - the only other ethnic/racial population besides Jews to be singled out in that way. But current scholarship puts the upper figure of our losses at 1.5 million, not half a million.

The author states that we are not a recognized minority, and yet we have Category II status in the Economic and Social Council at the UN, permanent representation in UNICEF, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. We are also represented among the Indigenous Peoples as a nongovernmental organization at the UN.

The reason we are overlooked in this country is that when news involving us is presented in the America media, we are hidden behind the words "refugees" (Germany), "orphans" (Romania), and "Muslims" (Bosnia-Herzegovina). Disney, Stephen King, and others continue to foist a Hollywood Gypsy image onto the American public, ensuring that we can never be taken seriously as a "real" people. Consequently, the problems we face here and overseas will likewise never be taken seriously.

The Romani population in the US has been rising rapidly since 1989, and we will certainly acquire a higher national profile. Accuracy about us is essential if we are to be accorded the respect and understanding due any ethnic minority.

Ian F. Hancock

Manchaca, Texas


International Roma Federation

A 'carpetbagger's' true story

The insightful article on the center spread, "Echoes of Plessy v. Ferguson in debate over a color-blind society," July 9, contained one egregious error: Albion Tourge (1838-1905) was not a light-skinned black. After serving as an Ohio officer in the Civil War, Mr. Tourge moved to Greensboro, N.C., drawn by the promise of climate to restore his health and opportunities to make his fortune. As a lawyer, he gravitated into state politics, helping to draft the state's new constitution and serving as a state superior court judge (1868-74).

He secured a national reputation, however, with the publication of a bestselling novel based on his ultimately frustrating experiences as a "carpetbagger," which he published shortly after leaving the South. "A Fool's Errand" (1879) helped to convince the nation of the brutal reality of nascent terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Tourge also lived long enough to play a minor role in the Niagara movement, which lead to the organization of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Scott P. Culclasure

Greensboro, N.C.

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