Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Appropriation Soup

if broccoli & cheddar soup is made from broccoli & cheddar, potato-leek soup made from potatoes and leeks, and tomato soup is made from tomatoes, then is G*psy soup made from G*psies?  I mean, it does seem to follow, doesn't it?  and you see that asterisk (*) I put in place of the 'y'?  I picked that up from other Roma who do it to indicate to non-Roma that for them, the 'G-word' is synonymous to the 'n-word' for Black people.  I also use a capital 'G' to show that I'm designating an ethic group.  while there are plenty of Romani people who use the term with pride, there are also many who would prefer to see its use dropped from the lexicon of world language entirely.  I can't and don't blame them, as the exonym comes from the mistaken belief that Roma people come from Egypt, and the term 'tsigane' (tzigane, cigany, zigano, cingaro, gitano, zigeuner, tigan), which is used for Romani all over the world, is synonymous with 'slave', and literally translates as 'untouchable'.  so can we maybe call the soup something else?  unless the cook is Romani, in which case, it's up to them.

now, let's take into account the fact that Roma are not just people, but A People, with roots in Northwest India before spreading in a diaspora throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, escaping oppression, enslavement, torture, and murder.  Roma have no homeland, and though they live in many different countries, have a mostly common language with many dialects, a flag, and a cultural pride - which is why it would be better for non-Roma people to find other ways to show their admiration for the Roma than by naming their businesses, their children, their food, and their pets 'G*psy'.  as the common term for an oppressed and maligned minority, the word 'G*psy' became a curse in the mouths of non-Roma, hurled at generations of children as a supposed measure of their collective worthlessness, their inferred inferiority.  every manner of sin is attached to their public image; they are often the prime suspects to many an inquest.  is that the spirit with which non-Roma don t-shirts emblazoned with slick graphics denoting their 'G*ypsy Souls'?

oh, look a this - with the ridiculously inaccurate, and therefore doubly insulting - to two cultures, so FOUR times as insulting - excuse for a Native American headdress. 

maybe living in refuge camps and substandard housing without clean, running water or access to other municipal services is what non-Roma people mean when they talk about 'loving their G*psy life!', or makes them proclaim 'G*psy life forever!'?  or maybe they're thinking of the stereotypically hyper-sexualized Romani woman as exotic 'other' trope to be found in literature, film, and theater, like Hugo's Esmerelda or Bizet's Carmen?  maybe they simply mean they want to be like my friends and I who are all just trying to make a living, make ends meet, get the bills paid and have enough left over to get something nice for the kids, have meaningful experiences and warm family moments, living life like the majority of other people on the planet, in our roles in our communities as teachers, police officers, singers, writers, dancers, full-time parents, doctors, government officials, musicians, fashion designers, bakers, athletes, constructions workers, machinists, etc... 

visit Chad Evans Wyatt's work over on his website RomaRising

while it seems romantic to live in a horse-drawn vardo traveling the countryside playing music around the campfire, much of that lifestyle was the necessary result of having to either fend for oneself out in the wilderness, or submit to the aforementioned horrors of oppression and slavery.  and while the Roma were eventually free of legal slavery, if not the stigma of being considered 'untouchables', there are always other expressions of racism lobbed in their direction, always more news of some atrocity or other, as if losing 80% of the total population of an entire ethnic group to the Nazis in World War II wasn't enough.  and the majority of Roma have been 'settled' for several generations, now, it's time to stop perpetuating the myth that we're a traveling people.  we're simply done running.  I know, I'm belaboring the point, but I wanted to make sure to include plenty of backstory for the rest of what I came to the page to say.

for many years, there haven't been people in any kind of position to stand up and talk about this stuff.  I mean, for sure there have been many Roma over the years who have raised their voices repeatedly for long periods of time, and their having done that obviously laid the ground-work for all the great progress made so far, but there are an unprecedented amount of young Roma coming up in the world who have managed to fully utilize all the benefits they could get access to as a means to forward their education and careers, who are doing all manner of amazing work across a variety of fields, and as a result, as A People, the Roma are beginning to be recognized as an ethnic minority it is no longer acceptable to discriminate against (not that it ever was), and that our cultural contribution to the global community is worthy of respect.

Roma Education Fund Early Childhood Education Program

as a woman of Romani descent, even though I wasn't raised in a 'traditional' way, taking part in activism on behalf of the Romani people is something I do as a way to honor my Romani ancestors and heritage.  one of the main ways I am able to do that is by making sure everyone in my circle of family and friends is aware of the issues facing many Roma today, both overseas, and here in the United States.  I bring that awareness out into the wider community by talking to people about how they use 'the G-word' when it sneaks into everyday language, or comes up in conversation.  I approach it on Halloween in the streets, and in songs at the music school.  I write in to the newspaper to let them know their use of the term in specific contexts is prejudiced and misinformed.  I helped a store-owner recognize that she had the creative ability to come up with an even better name for her shop to put on a big sign out front than something that would have been insulting for to me to have to see every day in my local community.  I sign and share petitions concerning Romani issues, and I support Romani artists and endeavors when and wherever I can.  so here is where we get to the meat of my story today ~

this Halloween, while helping to chaperone my friends' and my small tribe of trick-or-treaters as they lay waste to the town's candy supply, one of my friends mentioned to me that they had heard, or read an article about, a new restaurant opening up in the next town by the name of 'The Twisted Gypsy'.  they mentioned it to me because they knew it would matter to me.  deeply.  and they were right.  I went immediately into defensive mode, deciding on the spot that the minute I got home that night I would begin doing everything I could, as fast as I could, to make sure that didn't happen.  I sent an email to the diner up the road from my house, because the guy who owns the diner, my beloved, hometown diner, where my kid and I get our locally-sourced 'eggs any style, rye toast, crispy bacon, and roasted potatoes' with generous tip included for $20, is the very guy who is the one opening up this latest insult on my culture, right here where I live, where I'll have to see it, and hear about it, and deal with pretending it isn't killing me inside a little every day.  and then I'd have to boycott my beloved hometown diner up the road from my house where my kid and I have gotten many soul-healing $20 breakfasts, which supports local agriculture, economy, community, and families.  and that wouldn't feel good.  besides, I'm just a poor, single mom, with little to no pull in this community - this guy owns at least one successful business if not more, and is about to open another one.  what chance do I have to be heard, to be taken seriously, of being respected?

here's the article from when he bought the property:  https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2015/10/24/phoenicia-diner-owner-buys-gypsy-wolf-property/

in my email to the diner, I told them I had heard about the new restaurant, and a rumor about a proposed name for which I suggested the restauranteur sit down with me so I could help him pick a more appropriate name for his new endeavor that did not include a racial slur for my people.  I offered to work together to find a way to move forward as friends and neighbors, in an environment of mutual respect and understanding for each other's cultures.  then I posted the information on facebook.  I told my friends that I had learned of the plans for the new restaurant, the proposed name, and insisted we could not allow it to happen.  I asked them to be ready and willing to support a coordinated action to help the owners understand why finding a new name would win them many new fans and loyal customers.  my friends said they had my back.  then...

article where the 'Twisted Gypsy' rumor began:  https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2017/10/02/woodstock-building-boom-continues/

a friend of mine who knows the restauranteur stepped in and asked me to hold off on the letter-writing and boycotting, because knowing him to be a fair and decent guy, he wanted a chance to talk to him before I went full social justice warrior on a local business owner over a misunderstanding, and perhaps even facilitate the proposed sit-down I suggested.  knowing my buddy to be a fair and decent guy, I agreed, and he responded promptly with all assurances that the new restaurant would not carry that, or any name like it.  just like that.  I heard about it Wednesday night, by Friday morning I had a second-hand assurance, and on Friday night I had an email from the restauranteur thanking me for reaching out with my concerns.  he explained to me that when he purchased the building and property - having been, in its previous incarnation, a cantina by the name of Gypsy Wolf, which functioned on that spot for 25 years, and was still open when I first moved here, which I never patronized for the offending name, and has since shut down - they needed to form an LLC, and settled on the name 'Twisted Gypsy' by combining a nod to the old Gypsy Wolf, and the twisted willow trees indicated on the site plan.  they had no intention of offending anyone, and do not plan on using that name as part of the new restaurant.  done.

I haven't responded with a thank you email yet, but I'm getting to it.  I keep a file of articles and stories like this on a facebook page I manage called Romani and Allies 'Gypsy' Activism, because as a community, it's important for us to recognize when people make the right choice; like Chef Mitch at Taco Moto in Milwaukee,  Students United Ithaca who refused to whitewash Esmerelda's character in their school musical, a retailer in Dallas who renamed her shop Favor the Kind from something less...kind, and the Actor's Equity Association for renaming their traditional Broadway ceremony, and its accompanying accoutrement.  I am happy to now add to that list the Phoenicia Diner, where they "serve your favorite diner standbys based on locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients from nearby Catskills and Hudson Valley farms."  so they do that, AND respect the culture of their neighbors.  feel free to let them know you appreciate their decision, and integrity.  if you're local, go visit (the food is Amazing, and it's a real friendly place!), if you're within traveling distance, make a weekend of it!  if you're far away, just send a thank you note.  I'm sure they'll enjoy knowing they won a few fans by choosing to be on the side of history that favors inclusion; and in recognizing the importance of the individual ingredients, will find a better name for their soup.



  1. Thank you for giving me a foundation for starting these conversations when I see people in my life appropriating. For a while, I knew something should be said, but I didn't have the language and the background to make the argument myself.

    1. no problem, Carol! the conversations surrounding these issues can seem intimidating, but once you have a good amount of background information, it makes it easier to illustrate your points. thanks for being an ally!

  2. A great post--first part is handy for the conversations Carol refers to above; second is a story with a good ending and it's cheering to read one on a nerve-wracking, wet day. Will send a thank you. Glad the diner fella did the right thing, and good on your friend for talking with him. :-)

    1. thanks, Mrs. C, glad you enjoyed it! yeah, there was a good amount of community involved in this conversation, but that's what brought such a swift and satisfying end, I believe...if only ALL our conversations of a similar nature went so smoothly!

  3. Replies
    1. thanks, Dawn! it was more of a group effort, and I think most of the thanks belong to my friend for being such a great advocate, but I'm not discounting the Diner-owner's willingness to hear my concerns, either! <3

  4. Mama PJ,

    The past is the past. I know there will always be prejudice for as long as the world stands. This is something we can't change even if we want or try. I think sometimes we become a slave to our way of thinking. I think we all live by the golden rule to treat others as you want to be treated then society wouldn't have any riffs in mankind regardless of sex, race, or culture.

    1. wow, Cathy, that's a really negative comment, attitude, and way of thinking. people grow and change every day, all the time, as is clearly laid out in this blog, and elsewhere - do you live in the world? maybe You're a slave to Your way of thinking, but I have seen people learn from their past behavior, and make the Choice to move forward in unity.

    2. Mama PJ,

      I guess my comment wasn't very clear. I'm not slave by this thinking, what I meant was people can't let go of the past so thus they become a slave to it. Does that make sense? That's why I gave reference to the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. If we all lived by that then there wouldn't be any division among us, would there? :) Sometimes it's hard to convy with words what you really mean. I'm sorry if this left a negative vibe in your spirit but that's not what I intended. Humbly accept my apologizes, dear.

    3. apologies are nice, but action is better. I do appreciate your apology, but again - telling me to 'let go of the past' is arrogant, condescending, and suggests that you know more than I do about my own experience, and that I lack the capacity to understand how to live in this world. maybe try taking a step back, exert some self-control, and humbly accept that people of color have heard it all before, and deserve the space to tell their truths without white people talking over them. as a 'white-passing' person who didn't used to understand my own privilege, I too needed to learn when to sit down, and let others lead the conversation. it's a great way to learn how best to be an agent of change.


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