For June, Roma and Traveller History Month, Jessica Reidy of VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, has written a must-read essay, “Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should be Reading,” featuring the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Executive Artistic Director, Diana Norma Szokolyai. In her essay, Reidy writes:
June is Roma and Traveller History Month, which began as an effort to educate people about these culturally rich, diverse, vibrant, oppressed, underrepresented, and misunderstood ethnic groups most commonly referred to as “Gypsies.” Let’s start with the word. Gypsy: the less-accurate term that gadjé (Rromanes for non-Romani people) use to refer to Roma, an ethnic group originating in India around the 11th century. After leaving India, Roma traveled West and were met by hostile, xenophobic Europeans, and so became nomadic due to persecution. Although many Roma are settled today and live all over the world, discrimination, hate crimes, and apartheid are ever-present. Travellers, sometimes known as “Tinkers,” are also traditionally nomadic and historically and presently suffer the same stigma and oppression that Roma suffer; however, they are of Irish ethnic origin and have their own culture and language and tend to live in Ireland and the U.K.
Over time, Gypsy became a racial slur, especially in the lowercase “gypsy,” and antigypsyist language is normalized in many languages. In American-English, for example, antigypsyist slurs are idiomatic (eg: That shopkeeper gypped me!). Racial slurs for Roma and Travellers include “Gypsy,” Gyppo,” “Gyp,” and for Travellers specifically, “Pikey” and “Knacker.” Despite this, Gypsy is often appropriated by gadjé and misused to describe anything occult, whimsical, sexual, or criminal, which both perpetuates harmful stereotypes and insultingly implies that “being Gypsy” is a lifestyle choice or a state of mind or spirit. This is particularly problematic considering the current global Romani and Traveller human rights crisis. However, some Roma and Travellers choose to reclaim Gypsy as an act of linguistic and identity empowerment, whereas some Roma, especially of the older generations (like my grandmother) just prefer Gypsy. If you aren’t Romani or Traveller, use Roma and Romani or Traveller instead of Gypsy or any other slurs, and if you are Romani or Traveller, you’re free to reclaim or shun the word Gypsy as you see fit.
Diana Norma Szokolyai—is a young Hungarian-American writer/performance artist of Hungarian and Romani descent. She is Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, where she teaches and organizes Writing and Yoga retreats in France for adult writers. Her writing on literary communities was recently the subject of a monthly feature on HER KIND by VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts and Quail Bell Magazine. She author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows (honorable mention for Best Poetry Book in the 2014 Paris Book Festival) and Roses in the Snow (first runner-up Best Poetry Book at the 2009 DIY Book Festival). In 2011, The Brooklyn Art House Co-op digitized her handwritten chapbook, Blue Beard Remixed & Poems, written for The Fiction Project. Her writing has also been published in Lyre Lyre, the front page of The Boston Globe, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, Teachers as Writers, Polarity, Up the Staircase, Belltower & the Beach, Human Rights News, and Area Zinc Art Magazine, among others. She has released recordings of audio poetry in collaboration with musicians Dennis Shafer, Sebastian Wesman, David Krebs, Peter James, Howl Quartet, and Project 5 a.m. She also co-curates a poetry-music series, performs in CHAGALL PAC and is an interdisciplinary performance artist with the Brooklyn Soundpainting Ensemble. Her interdisciplinary work has been called “avant-garde” by The Boston Globe. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and was educated at Harvard, UConn, AMI, La Sorbonne Paris III and IV, and in her grandmother’s kitchen in Hungary. Website: http://diananorma.com/; Twitter handle: @DNSWrites
Read Jessica Reidy’s full essay for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts here.