Roma 101: Five questions answered about Europe's vilified minority

Authorities removed three young children (one in Greece, two in Ireland) from their parents last month. The children were fair-skinned and blond, while their parents were darker-skinned Roma, stoking fears of child abduction. DNA tests found that none of the children were 'missing.' But the cases revived stereotypes about the Roma, as well as their ability to integrate into society.

Who are the Roma?

Benoit Tessier/Reuters
A woman cooks vegetables at a Roma camp near Paris, one of about 400 such camps in France. The Roma originated in India.

The Roma, also known somewhat pejoratively as Gypsies, migrated from India centuries ago. Today, the best estimate puts their number at 12 million worldwide. The Roma are not a homogeneous ethnic group, nor are they bound by the notion of a common homeland. Most have dark hair and olive complexions and can be referred to as Gitano or Tigani, depending on the country where they are living, or Sinti or Travelers, depending on their subgroup. Roma is the generic term. The most common name, Gypsy, derives from a mistake made 1,000 years ago, when they were thought to be Egyptian.

Not all Roma speak a dialect of Romany, related to Sanskrit. Some are Christian; some are Muslim. They are subject to widespread discrimination but have also been celebrated in pop culture for their influence on music, as fortunetellers and mystics, or as seductresses, as in Bizet's 1875 opera, "Carmen."

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