As you probably already know, my mission is to write columns that other columnists are not writing.  It is in that spirit that I have written for example a Beacon column demonstrating the contribution to America by everyone ranging from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the pugnacious high school teenagers I have been teaching.  Today we are going over the contributions being made to America by American Gypsies or – as these original people from ancient India prefer to call themselves – the Romani people of America.

Let’s begin by bringing up our associations with the word “Gypsy.”  So there are for example “gypsy” taxi cabs called that way because they will supposedly go anywhere, where others don’t dare go, in a supposed association with the wandering Gypsy people.  There was the world’s most famous stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, who called herself that to draw more attention to her Gypsy flamenco moves during her strip tease performance.  And there was the actor Yul Brynner, who everyone thought created such good Gypsy performances with his gleaming shaved head and darting eyes on stage and screen that he even allowed himself to become president of an international Gypsy association.

Neither Lee nor Brynner were Gypsies by any known heritage.  But Americans like former President Bill Clinton and the late Hollywood star Rita Haworth are in fact Gypsies by descent.  Other Gypsies by their recent ancestry include Charlie Chaplin, the late Hollywood actor Bob Hoskins and English actor Sir Michael Caine.  If all these assimilated Gypsies seem to weigh heavily into the performing arts area – and you may even remember President Bill Clinton as a kind of performing president – you might that Gypsies for centuries have owed their survival by the receptions they have received for their performing gypsy guitar playing and violin playing and flamenco dancing and other performing.

The author who gathered the names of the above assimilated Gypsies and many others is the British Gypsy Ian Hancock in his book We Are The Romani People, with its two back cover subtitles, Treat Us All The Same and We Are Human Like You.  You see, I have been reading books about Gypsies to do research for a novel I am writing, which has something to do with how the Old Soviet Union tried to bend its Gypsy population into conformity with its Communist Culture.  The anticipated tension of the book has something to do with the unbending resistance to conformity of any Gypsies anywhere in the world.

Yet there is also something to be noticed in the long list of assimilated Gypsies that Hancock listed in his book. A great proportion of them are English Gypsies, or at least Gypsies who were in England before leaving for somewhere else.

The English Gypsies come out of a long diaspora that began in India from the most peaceful Hindus being driven out of their homeland by invaders from the West over 1,000 years ago.  They traveled to Persia, but did not stay long there, and finally they settled in the Balkan nations of Europe, especially what is today Romania.  Even today, Romania remains the largest habitat of the Gypsy, with a population of over a million Romani people there.  The present Romani language is in fact what remains of an old Romanian language and the original Hindustani vocabulary of the old Indian homeland.

The Gypsies with their urgent need for an adopted homeland combined with their unconventional revulsion against local conformity have largely made them unwelcome everywhere they have traveled. But their non-conformity is logically explained by their over 500 years of slavery in the Balkan nations.  Any population that is enslaved for so many generations is not about to rush into conforming to any kind of popular culture that has enslaved them.

The exception to blanket hostility against Gypsies has been the English people.  In fact, the redeeming of the English Gypsies has been seen by a significant movement in England to help their Gypsies as a kind of colonial White Man’s Burden.  The Irish/English novelist Emily Bronte helped spur this national sentiment with her extremely popular novel Wuthering Heights, which revolves around the stormy life of an English Gypsy named Heathcliff who is adopted as a waif into an old English household.

Unfortunately, Americans have never been as interested in our Gypsies as the English have been fascinated in theirs.  There have been no American Gypsies that have turned so quickly into a Sir Michael Cain or a Charley Chaplin or a Bob Hoskins.   The case of the American Gypsy Bill Clinton is an anomaly – Clinton is the former president’s stepfather’s name.  Clinton’s natural name is Blyth, and he is a natural descendent of Andrew Blyth, who in the 19th Century was the brother of the Gypsy king of Scotland. By the time Andrew Blyth arrived in America, he seemed to have become self-actualizing through the relatively liberal Gypsy politics of the English.  More detail of all this can be found in the book mentioned above by Ian Hancock, the English Gypsy author and famed university scholar.

In America, Gypsies are the most unemployed people in regular employment.  They have largely survived by irregular employment – such as fortune telling or creating cars from old parts and selling them to people who can’t afford other cars.  Smith is a common Gypsy name largely because so many Gypsy men became through the centuries self-employed coppersmiths and silversmiths.  These Romani still largely look like the Asian Indian people they actually were at one time, and they still use many of the old Hindu words they had spoken before their diaspora. And in spite of adapting to all and any religions to become more agreeable to their changing hosts in their wanderings, their peaceful original Hindu nature has largely prevailed over a thousand years.

Perhaps I best end this with the words from the book of a genuine Gypsy, Professor Ian Hancock:

“We are, after all, a people who have never started a war, who have never tried to take over a foreign government and who never have been an economic or government threat to anyone.  In fact, if anything typifies us as a people, it is our desire to keep to ourselves.”

God bless you, the Gypsies of California and the United States.


Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . Sharp's latest book is an Amazon Kindle collection of his published short stories, Every Kind of Angel . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.