Roma Life

That title is a play on where I worked out of when I lived in Rome – it was called Romalife. But, the Roma I am thinking of today are the nomadic people whom Europeans, and tourists, in a word, hate.

I’m so serious this week on my blog, aren’t I?

Anyway, I saw this CNN report about Italy’s desire to count and fingerprint all the Roma living within its borders – even the children. I find this to be a gross violation of civil rights – especially after Italy, seeking to calm down human rights watchers, came out saying that ALL Italians will be fingerprinted starting in 2010.

Cal and I discussed the Roma after having watched the video, and I can’t recall a more uncomfortable conversation. At one point I said that we must sound similar to ignorant white Americans talking about Africans. It’s maddeningly hard to wrap my head around the Roma; they refuse to assimilate and they have no one who properly represents them in the public eye. I don’t mean Roma who’ve “made it” – I mean someone who can stand up and loudly defend their existence, other than non-Roma human rights workers. So, they remain a mystery to me and, I think it’s safe to say, to Italians as well.

And, as we all know, the unknown breeds prejudice.

The conflict inside me while watching the video was this:

  1. My heart goes out to a misunderstood, misaligned culture that has served as a scapegoat for every social ill that has befallen Italy. They are an all too convenient target for those in power who choose to ignore the reality of their own failings. A part of me wants to find out more about the enigmatic Roma; I’d like to learn their history and their reasons for consciously rejecting modern conveniences and societal norms. It seems to me that it takes much more effort to live they way they do than if they, say, had electricity and plumbing.
  2. “They treat us like animals,” one woman says in the interview. Guess what? “They” are not that smart. So, when They see you CHOOSING to live among trash and open sewage, seemingly without any regard for basic hygiene or the safety and welfare of your many children, then that’s how They’re going to treat you, because that’s how feral animals live. Get it together. You can choose to live like your ancestors, but it’s not like you don’t know how the world works. You’re in the middle of Rome, for chrissakes.

The one thing I have realized as a result of this post is that it is pretty much impossible to discuss the Roma without sounding like a complete asshole. I’ve written and rewritten it a thousand times, and everything I want to say simply sounds like everything ignorant people have said about every foreign race and culture since the beginning of time. That’s frightening to me, but it also interests me.

I just don’t understand why they choose to live the way they do.


6 thoughts on “Roma Life

  1. Thanks! That was a great read. But, unfortunately, it mirrors so many other articles out there in its generality (although the Economist is light years ahead of journalism these days). I’m talking about more individual reasons – an in-depth look at specific Romas’ lives and their reasons for living them as they do. Like the lady in that video on CNN – I want to ask her about a hundred more questions, you know?

  2. That’s generally why I stay away from tv news – I yell enough at the screen as it is. Oppressed minorities often deliberately develop “antisocial” behaviours: Black youth in the U.S. dressing and talking like gang members, to take one example, and being derided as Uncle Toms if they attempt to escape that cycle.
    Being loathed and feared is to have a kind of power, so it’s no wonder some Roma embrace it, especially when the alternative is to become one of the “them” that has historically mistreated you and your kind.
    That said, I too have absorbed many of the European prejudices against Roma, so my pop-anthropology is theoretical at best. Kudos to you for grappling with it.

  3. I find them intriguing as well, and confusing and anachronistic and mysterious. The only thing about them I’ve ever read that makes sense to me is that part of their problem with assimilation is when one of them chooses to become part of modern culture, they are outcast from the other Romas, and yet they will always be outsiders to the people they are trying to integrate with. They end up as loners.

    I know that concept is overly simplistic and naive, but at the same time it makes some sense to me.

  4. You are right, they are a funny bunch these Roma. They don’t do themselves any favours either. There odd insistence on living in squalor does nothing for their image either.

    These curious people could do wonders for their public image by just cleaning up a little, OK, a lot.

    I’d love to be able to figure out the mindset of the Roma. Has anyone actually asked them why they love living in the midst of rubbish piles.

    Wicked suggestion – Maybe the Rome Roma would be happier down in Naples;-)

    All the best,


  5. I see a Roma girl in my area always begging for money. She is very young should be in school. One day I asked her “where is your mom?” She pointed to the left somewhere.

    I gave her money once. Not doing it again. I saw her and her mom the other day. Her mom is healthy. I so wanted to go up to her and ask her why she allows her young, very pretty daughter to do this. Maybe Italy has less of a pedophile problem than the U.S. but come on. It can’t be good for this girl to be begging people sitting out side in Campo de fiori for money.

    My heart really goes out to the Roma kids. they didn’t ask for this. If the adults want to live this way fine but the kids should be allow to go to school.

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