|Margaret (14), Carla (24)|
The family lives in a village where they "settled" 20 years ago. Their father of the metal worker class has an auto body repair business and is also a local policeman.
The family cast is that of metal workers, and they are in the middle class of their cast. The lighter the skin, the higher the cast. The ethnic ancestry of Gypsies are from India which accounts for their darker skin. They have carried with them their cast and patriarchal traditions wherever they roam. Their mother is the traditional stay at home mom and grandma. The parents are in their early 40's. Marrying young is the expectation.
At first glance, the house looks like a typical home in the Romanian mountains.
There are several dented cars in the front yard (part of the auto body business..although some of them may have been family autos as well). A fence encloses the car and living quarters.
As we approach, Carla, wearing a scarf around here head - indicating she is a married woman, is working outside on a covered porch having just completing a pleated skirt she is making.
She is a self-taught seamstress and makes her mother's and sister's clothing. She also makes skirts for other women and is on Facebook. The fabric is a beautiful light weight translucent floral print. Each pleat is less than a centimeter and tightly pleated. Gypsy beauty is measured by a woman's girth not her face, consequently, her skirts use a lot of fabric and have many pleats. She pulls the pins from the board that the skirt is laying on with dental pliers and rolls up the fabric.
We are invited inside the home and enter through the kitchen. On the left, there is a large china cabinet loaded with china and dishes. Carla says these were a part of her mother's dowery.
In front of us, is a table spread with a white cloth with covered glasses of beverage and platters of small cakes.
The walls have all sorts of regalia and there are sofas and chairs along the walls for our seating. Carla says that Gypsy women love sparkles and attributes this to their ethnic origin of India, bangles, and coins.
Carla takes a seat across the table from us and her younger sister stands looking at her cell phone and texting. We have been told that it is permissible to take photos and to ask any question we want. Nothing will be offensive. Carla's mother is in the next room. She does not speak any English, but she understands some, but she is not a part of the conversation.
Carla confides that she and her sister speak English (both very well) so that they can talk about whatever they want in front of their parents without their parents knowing what they are saying. As their parents have achieved a basic English vocabulary and are understanding more and more, the girls laugh and say they just speak real fast now in English.
Carla speaks four languages: Romanian, Gypsy, English, and Hungarian. She learned her English from TV cartoons and soap operas. Carla has an eighth grade education. Her fourteen year old sister Margaret was pulled out of school after fifth grade. It is considered a SHAME for Gypsy girls to be educated. The girls would have liked to continue their education, but Gypsy tradition does not change and it always trumps desire or apparently century.
Margaret is engaged and will soon be married. She is a beautiful girl with an uncovered head and long braids with ribbons that extend down her back.
She seems quite feisty and assertive, but also resigned that she will soon be married off. Pulling girls out of school and marrying them off is a father's way of maintaining a patriarchal hierarchy and controlling women which is the Gypsy tradition. Girls are to be submissive and boys are to be dominant. Domestic violence is a means of keeping women in their place and is an expected practice. Carla's husbands tried to beat her, but she says she beat them off with her high heels.
Margaret's marriage as well as Carla's first marriage were both arranged with young men/boys from their cast. One always marries in their cast. Margaret seems quite unhappy about her impending marriage to a 16 year old boy and is reluctant to talk about it. She doesn't even want to think about their "alone" time.
Carla at 24, has been married and divorced twice, and has a 4 year old son and a 2 year old daughter, each by a different father. Her first husband was convicted of some crime and is in prison. Marriage and divorce for these Gypsies is very uncomplicated. We are married. The woman moves to the husband's family home where the girl is supervised by the mother-in-law. We are divorced....the woman moves back home with her parents. When a child is involved in the divorce, boys stay with their father, girls go with their mother so that gender traditions and roles can be passed to the next generation.
Since Carla's husband was in prison, the paternal grandparents kept the child and gave Carla visiting rights, but cut off access after a couple of months. Brides in a household have no say. One must wait to express opinion until, she herself becomes a mother-in-law.
Carla would not stand for this so she accused the grandparents of abuse, sexual molestation of her child that gave her the right to take back her son. Her second husband suffered in an accident with brain injury and caused him to be "schizophrenic", and she could not tolerate living with him anymore. So she divorced him and moved back home.
Her parents would like her to get married again because as she puts it, "I have always been problematic for them." Carla is intelligent, assertive, and does not take direction very well. She enjoys working for herself and does not want to work for a boss.
Carla and Margaret seem to have a typical sister relationship. Carla tells her sister what to do, and Margaret talks back or pouts about it. She passes out something to drink and eat to all of us at Carla's instruction. A typical day for Margaret, so she says, is to wake up by noon and play on Facebook most of the day, and eat candy. Carla snorts and says Margaret is lucky to be up by 2:00 pm.
There is no Gypsy religion, and they are not practicing Hindus, as one might expect having cultural heritage to India. As "settled" Gypsies, they join the local religions which in this particular village are Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, or Jehovah Witnesses. Carla's mother is Jehovah Witness and is trying to convert the girls to this religion. Neither one of them is excited about this prospect.
When asked about Gypsy women who beg, Carla said often they are usually the lowest cast women who are placed by their husband somewhere to do the begging and they may have children around them or holding a baby that is not their own. She tries to counsel these women about social services available to them. In many cases the women are already receiving services, but still are sent out to beg.
Both Carla and Margaret are deeply invested in their Gypsy heritage and are resigned with whatever life brings them. It is hard to reconcile feisty, intelligent, and assertive women with the submissiveness and obedience that is expected of them. When asked what Carla's expectations were for her daughter and her own future, i.e. "Would she want more education for herself, for her daughter", she got a little flustered and said she can barely think about one month in advance. Right now she is thinking about school for her son.
There is undoubtedly laughter and joy in families, but this we did not talk about today. Today, it was about acceptance and resignation to what is and what will undoubtedly continue to be.
Woe to the Gypsy Woman.
We took a group photo as we left, wishing the young women our best for their health and happiness, but all of us feeling quite saddened by their lack of free will and opportunity. We were appreciative and grateful for this insight into one family's settled "Gyspy" life.