One of the two main characters of The Cerulean Locket is a Roma, also (and sometimes pejoratively) known as “Gypsies.” But just who are the Roma? Apart from stereotypes seen on television and shared in stories and songs passed generation to generation, many people seem to know little about these ancient people; from their expedition from India through Persia to Europe over 1,500 years ago, to their subsequent persecution and genocide, to their quest for survival in today’s modern world.

According to The United States Holocaust Encyclopedia, “Roma (Gypsies) originated in the Punjab region of northern India as a nomadic people and entered Europe between the eighth and tenth centuries. They were called ‘Gypsies’ because Europeans mistakenly believed they came from Egypt.”

For centuries, Roma have been persecuted across Europe.  First, they were enslaved by Europe’s wealthy landowners.  Later, during WWII, the Nazi regime deemed them as “racially inferior,” subjecting them to arbitrary internment, forced labor, and, ultimately, genocide. (See Genocide of the European Roma (Gypsies) 1939–1945, The United States Holocaust Encyclopedia

Today, racism against the Roma remains widespread. According to Amnesty International, “[d]iscrimination against Romani children in education is multifaceted. Romani children are either disproportionately placed in schools designed for pupils with ‘mild mental disabilities’ or relegated to Roma-only classes and schools. Those attending mixed mainstream schools often face unbearable bullying and harassment.” (See Segregation, bullying and fear: The stunted education of Romani children in Europe, Amnesty International, 2015)

Each year, thousands of Roma are forcibly evicted from their homes and sent to settlement camps with no heat, running water, or sanitation. Roma women and girls face the greatest challenges. In some Eastern European countries, Roma women have been subjected to forced surgical sterilization by the government in order to reduce the Roma population. Traditional Roma tribes still practice arranged child marriages between children as young as eleven years old.  Teenaged brides are often traded between Roma communities for large sums of money, giving rise to human trafficking concerns.

“The prejudice against [the Roma] is incorrigible. It does not matter that they are among the most industrious traders, astute horse merchants and skillful metal workers in Europe: they will always be seen as shiftless and work-shy. It does not matter that, among themselves, truthfulness is a cardinal virtue. To the outsider, to the gadje, they are always liars.” – Michael Ignatieff, Forgetting is the best revenge, The Independent UK

Header photo credit: “A teenage girl fixes her hair near hanging laundry inside an illegal camp of travelling people in Indre, near Nantes, western France, on July 30, 2010” via The Baltimore Sun “Darkroom”