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An Open Letter To The Unbeknownst Racist

Gina, a Kalderash Roma girl from Baltaeni camp. The wearing of a headscarf shows that she is married. April 1993

Dear Blonde Hippie Girl from the mall today,

I’m sorry to call you out by a feature of yours, I’m sure that you haven’t yet realized how frustrating it is to be defined by the color of your hair. Or maybe you have. I wouldn’t know, I don’t know you. But, let me explain how I came to be so passionately frustrated with you, that I am here writing this rant-of-an-open-letter.

A week ago I was at the mall with my best friend. She is half Mexican, and I am a dark featured white girl. Well, technically, I’m a member of the Romany people. Romany is the correct term for what you may call ”gypsies.” My friend and I look strikingly similar, and we have similar backstories. Both of our parents were first generation college students who grew up in bilingual and highly cultural families. Because of this, we are both quite proud of our heritage, though I am by far the most vocal about mine. Yes, I am one of the rare members of the Romany people who is openly vocal about what I am, where I came from, and why you should respect my people. Most of my distant relatives back in modern day Czech Republic are too oppressed to shout from the rooftops. After all, the general public compares my aunties and uncles to beetles and rats.

Back to the point- my friend and I were combing through the clearance racks for a cute, modest dress to wear to the Sadie Hawkin’s Dance. From across the store, I heard you and your friend’s talking about a particular line of skirts and tops that you thought were cute. You said, and I quote, “This shirt is literally the cutest! I mean, it’s so boho-chic, and my butt would look  A-MAYYY-ZING!” Your friends all agreed, one of whom even called the dress “Totally Gypsy-Sexy-Chic.” That is when I got angry.

I’m sorry, but as far as I knew, my culture wasn’t a style title! As far as I’m concerned it isn’t. And you know what, Miss Gypsy-Sexy-Chic 2017? If you want that ‘boho’ look, you can go read a book about what ‘boho’ actually is. Bohemia was an Eastern European nation, the home to my Romany ancestors. It was their home, the safest they ever felt was in Bohemia, but of course, the Czech soldiers took it over. My great grandfather was stabbed in Town Square for being openly Romany, and loudly Bohemian. I bet you didn’t know that, did you? My grandparents fled the Holocaust to keep alive their culture that you have now marginalized into a style of maxi skirt? Don’t get me wrong, the skirt was super cute, but It was not a Romany skirt. That skirt is not the skirt of my people. If my Grandma Rosanna were to see me in that thing, she would chew me out for disgracing the modesty of my people.

Let me tell you how I achieve my ‘gypsy chic’ look. I wake up every day and honor my family members who died in Hitler’s camps. I call my grandmother once a week and remind her that I loved her. I know every word to the Romany national anthem. There are eight cousins in my family, we get together often and sing and dance and play and remember what our grandparents went through and fought for. My great aunt Eva had to find her family in Chicago, she was all alone and only spoke Czech and Romany because her family had to leave her behind. She was seven years old, alone in Chicago! She was a fighter and I plan on honoring that incredible woman just like I honor the other hundreds of strong, amazing, Romany people who made me who I am today. I will name my daughter Eva Papusza because those are the names of my people. My children will know what the blood running through their veins means!

And it is my hope that by the time I have children, there will be more pop-culture references to their culture besides ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and those ‘Sexy Fortune Teller’ Halloween costumes I see every single year. That is my hope, and you, Bleach Blonde Girl From The Mall, are one of the young people who can help to change the norm. But not if you keep calling that blouse ‘gypsy chic.’ ‘Gypsy chic’ is not a thing!

Nobody’s culture should be a marketable fashion style. Not if nobody will teach the buyers of those fashion styles what ‘gypsy’ really is. Romany. I’m tired of being your Halloween costume and your conversation starter. My grandmother was ridiculed for her mother’s accent and her father’s unwillingness to live within 50 miles of a town, I will not allow you to be complemented for your incredible sense of style. And for the record, flowy does not equal Romany… just putting it out there.

Sincerly,

An Obviously P.O.ed Romany Woman

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Music, theatre, dancing, unnecessary psychology textbooks, these are just a few of the many things that fill up the 24 hours in a day for Gracie Ward. This fiery future social worker and native born Idahoan isn't afraid to slap you with the truth, and back it up with facts.

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