In October 2006, I traveled to rural Romania, to volunteer at a nonprofit orphanage in Romania.
One evening, I took this photo of Roma mothers and their children. The women had been raped, abandoned, and left with babies. The orphanage built a home on their property, giving these women basic housing and food. The families lived together in one small house – a modest existence, but they were safe from the poverty and horrors of the city.
Hours after I took this photo, in the deep night, this house burned to the ground. All the families got out. But, homeless again. Just before the harsh winter.
Just a little girl. Barefoot. Wearing a torn white shift. An enigma – poor and lost. Is she cold? Where did she come from? Where is her mother?
These are questions that could be applied to all Roma people. Where do they come from? Where do they live? Who cares for them?
I took this photo during a visit to a sleepy little town in Portugal. Very quiet. No tourists.
Roma music plays an important role in many European countries. The Gypsy Kings, a popular group of salsa singers from Arles and Montpellier (in the south of France), were mostly gitanos, Berber-Moroccan and Spanish gypsies who fled Catalonia during the 1930s Spanish Civil War.
Roma are also associated with a romanticized idea of their mystical powers and passionate temper. Fortune telling grows out of folklore associated with Renaissance magic, closely associated with the Roma.
The Roma generally are reticent to assimilate with local cultures. Refusing to educate their children in national schools, suspicious of local and national laws, and following their own singular customs, have made these people a pariah in many countries. Associated with chronic poverty and criminal behavior, the Roma people often suffer persecution, prosecution, and mistreatment.
In the 1940s, the Nazis tried to exterminate the Roma people in a process known in Romani as the Porajmos. 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed. Later, the Soviets conducted a universal sterilization of Roma women. Today, post Soviet Eastern Europe is rife with discrimination and persecution of the Roma people.
The Italians don’t know what to do with the 150, 000 Roma people that crowd their streets begging from visiting tourists. “With the addition of Eastern European states such as Romania into the European Union, Italy has seen an influx of Roma people in the past decade. The attitude towards the Roma people is for the most part hostile, accusing them of opting for crime over a legitimate job and isolating themselves from Italian society (and taxes) by living in illegal camps. One survey in 2008 found that 68 percent of people in Italy wanted all Roma expelled from the country. ” (The Roma People and the Italians: A Strained Relationship)