Ask Again

That he has followed me, out of the cafe and into the night, should maybe concern me more.  But past danger I recognize in him—need—to which I stop to listen.  He can sense in me, he explains, a truth, a depth.  By heritage he is a Shaman, of sorts, I believe is what he explains in broken English.  So he knows about things such as me having gypsy blood.  This I understand clearly.  Eerily.  Because it is the second time I’ve been told so this evening.  Two strangers intuiting Roma from the whitewashed history I know to be mine.  To the first man’s inquiry, I’d insisted German, and English, the latter traced centuries back by my diligent grandfather.  He’d shaken his head, a movement of gentle certainty.  Ask again, was all he’d said.

So that now, on a rain darkened street cobbled with ancient pavers, staring at the sure face of a second man, I am not able to ignore the suspicion.  I suddenly imagine paperwork the first seeds of enslavement upon my gypsy soul, forged nationalities designed to protect my ancestors from…what?  Banishment? Sterilization? A black triangular patch signifying “asocial” status in Auschwitz?

An unfortunate, overwhelming consistency of human history is persecution of the “other” and Roma, the largest ethnic minority in Eastern Europe, are no exception.  Since their migration from India approximately six hundred years ago, Roma have suffered economic, political and cultural discrimination at the hands of communist, capitalist, democratic and totalitarian societies.  The post-1989 transition in Eastern Europe has created a huge ethnic underclass consisting of over 5 million Roma who by every statistical indicator have the lowest status of any ethnic group in Eastern Europe.

Still, despite huge obstacles and stereotypes abound, Roma have resisted assimilation and managed to maintain a strong identity.  Roma are a unique people in Europe in that they are a diaspora people with no claimed homeland. They do not adhere to a notion of homeland, nor do they wish to establish an independent state. This has caused them to be viewed as outsiders lacking stability and permanence, the quintessential “other.”[1]

Two paragraphs or two hundred pages would be insufficient to explore the complexities of the history or current politicization of “gypsy” ethnicity.  And before you cringe, don’t think for a second I intend a comparison between a white girl with first world problems and subjugated cultures.  The only parallel I highlight here was handed to me in the synchronicity of two strangers calling me gypsy which led me to looking at all the ways humans insist on “otherizing” even when it isn’t in a suppressive form.

Because sometimes I feel it.  A single woman, without children.  Choosing a lifestyle simple enough to support by a limited amount of work…even though there is more money to be made.  Travelling alone.  Choosing home rather adhering to a notion of homeland.  People’s reactions to these choices vary, but whether it be disdain or admiration, they are the same in the automatic recognition of “different” which somehow compels comment, as if difference equals license to judge.

And I’m not complaining, it’s not even a bad feeling when it happens, I’m just observing.  Wondering about this human tendency to categorize, majorize, and then regard differently the rest, the outliers.  How a single propensity of a species can have subtle and virtually harmless effects…or catastrophic, genocidal ones.

Especially when underneath all the particulars, beneath politics or the manner in which we structure our lives, when you sit down and connect human to human it is apparent that we all, for the most part, share a common set of aspirations.

Which is in part why I’m off to Merida, Mexico to initiate a service project aimed at sustainable development.  To explore the resiliency and creativity of people who have so little materially but still build lives from love.  To bask in the amazing company of my most magnificent sister and mother.  To seek perspective in hopes of strengthening my ability to build connections to replace the human illusion of separateness.  To immerse in gratefulness and allow my gypsy soul its joy!


[1] The paragraphs 3 and 4 were directly quoted from:


5 thoughts on “Ask Again

  1. Celina loved this edition of the tourist as usual it makes me think and feel blessed to know you in all you ways of wonder. Take care can’t wait to hear about your latest adventure in Mexico.XO Mo

  2. Wow! Thanks so much Maureen. I’m feeling blessed as well to have such an extended and extensive family around the world!

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