What it Means to be a Gypsy

It’s a way of life that has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the soul.

14 Feb 2022

by Lara Duchaine

It’s a way of life that has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the soul. It’s pride in what you do and who you are. It’s keeping a Gypsy promise no matter what because breaking a promise is breaking trust and losing pride. No one trusts Gypsies already, so who would trust us if we don’t keep our word?

Being Gypsy is not something to be romanticised. The word itself is a slur and a death sentence for many. You are born into it, it’s not something that can be self-proclaimed or said lightly. It comes with a lot of dark and heavy history, most often ignored and forgotten. Gypsies are always remembered as the bad guys.

I am fortunate enough to live in a world where I can proudly say that I am Gypsy without fearing for my family’s life and my own. Growing up, money was never a constant. We were always made aware when things were tough, but that does not mean we tried to keep it all selfishly. Being Gypsy is living day by day, because tomorrow is never promised. Being happy with what you have and not worrying about what you don’t. Our house was never empty, it was never just the four of us, (my parents, my sister and myself), there was always someone that needed a place to stay, a warm meal, some clothes to wear, a place to recover, and a place to work. One would think we were taken advantage of, but why deprive someone of the help they need, when it is so easily given. If we have enough to share, why not share it?

Gypsies are known as travelers because of our long history: groups of families would travel from one city to the next as entertainers and day workers to try to earn enough money for food and clothes. Selling fortunes, hard labour, songs and entertainment as a way to feed the family. They were allowed to enter the city walls to work and promptly kicked out at nightfall, hence the idea that all Gypsies live in caravans, they had no other choice. Many found a way to settle down and blend into their surroundings to avoid prosecution. The world remembers the Genocide of the Jews in the second world war, and while a horrible and inhumane part of history, no one ever remembers the Gypsies. A people accused of horrendous crimes and massacred like a simple pest without a second thought or even a mention in the foot notes of stupid history books.

I can proudly say, “I am Gypsy,”. I am saying it for all those before me who had to hide who they were. For my ancestors who had to fight and run and hide to survive. For my parents who worked so hard so that my sister and I could have the best childhood they could possibly give us and the best education they could possibly afford. I am saying for myself, because even though it might make my life more difficult to announce it, even though it might even put me in danger, I am free to be myself in a changing world. A world that is fighting to be more united. I want to be part of the change.

We come in many colours, shapes and sizes. We have mixed and adapted into our environments. So even though I have blue eyes, light, freckled skin and auburn hair, even though I live in houses and apartments and have never lived in a caravan. I am still as Gypsy as my great-grandfather who was born in a caravan somewhere in Spain with dark hair and eyes and olive skin.

So next time you see someone using “Gypsy soul” lightly as part of their eccentric hipster identity, remind them what Gypsies are. A Caucasian could never use a hashtag such as “Black soul” or “Black at heart” without being ridiculed. A Jew, Muslim or Christian wouldn’t say such a thing as “Buddhist at heart”, it’s mocking and offensive. You do not use another culture, religion or race that is not your own as a way to make yourself interesting, without being ridiculously offensive. So why is being Gypsy any different? You can identify with our way of life, but you can never begin to understand things you have not experienced, history that is not yours. You cannot understand what it means to be Gypsy and have the strength to say it loudly and proudly. I am a proud Gypsy. I am strong thanks to those who came before me.