Roma Writer: Actually, Stealing Children Isn’t Our Favorite Pastime

We have enough children of our own, thank you. And ethnicity alone is not a crime

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Greek Police / AP

Christos Salis, 39, right, and his companion Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 40, pose with the little girl known only as "Maria" in the Larissa regional police headquarters, Greece, on Oct. 17, 2013

A while back, during one of my book readings in San Francisco, a woman in the audience announced that she came to warn the people about the Gypsies. I had been talking about growing up in a Romany household in the former Soviet Union, about my parents’ beautiful house, about moving to America, going to college, working in the film industry before deciding to open a piano studio for kids. That’s when she stood and said a Gypsy is a Gypsy. More accurately, that a Gypsy cannot integrate into society, because Gypsies are a subhuman category incapable of more evolved reasoning. The people in the audience had begun to fidget, their faces rock hard and flushed with anger. Disbelief and fear glued me to my spot behind the microphone as she told us that Gypsies have been genetically engineered by nature to have children at 9 years old and that most of the girls died at about 14. I tried to keep my cool and explain that the majority of Roma are living quite normal, boring lives, and then I wondered why I would have to do that in the first place. How could an entire ethnicity be crammed into a single typecast so mercilessly?

(MORE: Who Are the Roma? TIME Explains)

And yet it is, time and again, most recently in the widespread reaction to a little girl named Maria who was discovered to be in the care of, but not the biological daughter of, a couple named Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou in Larissa, Greece. The press has nicknamed Maria “the blond angel.” Meanwhile, Salis and Dimopoulou are repeatedly referred to in headlines as “Roma” or “Gypsy.” Imagine, for a moment, if we routinely referred to suspects by their ethnicity instead of country of origin, so that English citizens of Caribbean descent would be described as a “black couple” in headlines and not a “Liverpool couple” or what have you. In Maria’s case, there was an automatic presumption of guilt, but it was their ethnicity as Roma that defined the crime.

(MORE: Europe’s Roma Face Witch Hunt After Reports of Child Snatching)

Then there are the images: the 4- or 5-year-old girl staring into the lens of a camera, her braided hair dipped in dark paint, clothes ragged, dirt on her fingers. A powerful conclusion emerges, and without crucial facts, without hesitation, we permit it to brand itself on our minds: Maria has been gypsyfied! And quite unawares, we are now looking at a case of possible child trafficking by the Gypsies and negligent parenting at the hand of the Gypsies. The stereotype of Gypsies as child snatchers is centuries old, but ask anyone if they can give you a specific incident, and they will scratch their heads. More disturbing historical facts have survived, including records of more than 133 anti-Gypsy laws enacted in the Holy Roman Empire at around 1551, which made being a Gypsy punishable by death, and authorities systematically took Romany kids from their parents and placed them in “proper” homes, a trend that continued well into the first half of the 19th century.

Stealing children is not Romas’ favorite pastime. We have plenty of our own, and as any parent can vouch, raising offspring takes time, money and the virtue of infinite patience. Most Roma — college students, professionals, homeowners, citizens — are too busy building careers and futures to slink about dark streets in search of children to snatch, because in fact most Roma are not itinerants living out of caravans but are assimilated into society. Of the 10 million Roma scattered around the globe today, only several thousand still live in camps. But cultural amalgamation comes with a price: in order to be accepted and have a chance at a normal life, most Roma keep their ethnicity a secret.

Back to Maria. It may be that the accused have, indeed, taken a child from a mother who could no longer care for her. Kostas Katsavos, one of the couple’s lawyers, says they adopted Maria with the permission of her biological mother, although the adoption was “nonlegal.” It may also be that they have committed an unforgivable crime. But if so, the fact of them being Roma would be the least important thing to know about them, instead of the most important. Crime defies all labels except one: immoral.

Marafioti is the author of American Gypsy: A Memoir. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including Bust and Slate. Trained as a classical pianist, she has also worked as a cinematographer. Marafioti is a past BMI–Kluge Center fellow in partnership with the Library of Congress. The views expressed are solely her own

11 comments
DCM
DCM

Marie's so called adopted parents, took her in as an investment. When Marie turned 12 or 13 years old, she would of been married off, to the highest bidder. Some old, fat, gypsy male swine.  People who are defending her "so called" adopted parents, are ignorant..

Its not tradition, its raping a child. So before you feel sorry for Maries so called adopted family and their human rights, think about Maries human rights. What about Maries right, not to be forced into marriage at 12 or 13 years old.

What about Maries right not to be raped, night after night, by her so called husband/ rapist. Law enforcement should raid more gypsy camps. Stopping the perverted practice of marring off children. Its slavery andchild rape, hiding behind the word tradition.

Guillermo.C.Jimenez
Guillermo.C.Jimenez

"Imagine, for a moment, if we routinely referred to suspects by their ethnicity instead of country of origin, so that English citizens of Caribbean descent would be described as a “black couple”

But that's exactly what we do, every day.  A friend of mine was harassed by two white kids in Washington Square Park in New York.  Eventually, when they pursued him, he sought refuge in an apartment building and called the police.  When the policeman started writing his report, he said, "Ok, let's see, young white male was harassed by two black males --"  My friend said, "No, I didn't say they were black.  They were actually white."  The policeman looked at him skeptically for a while, then asked, "Are you sure they weren't Hispanic?" 

That said, this makes the Greeks look bad, and the media look worse.  Criminality among the Roma is no excuse for convicting people in the press before an investigation can be made.

PatrickFogarty
PatrickFogarty

When I saw the little girl I was heart sick , not knowing any more about the situation than the photo I saw. ---I too know the story of The Roma , so to say , and of the Gypsy life .---  I am concerned that no matter how this might turn out , that the little girl and her life would no longer be the same , for good or for bad. I pray that it will turn out only for the better . 

crina
crina

I am afraid I have to agree with some of the comments here. I grow up in Romania  in a small town with many gipsy camps and I've never seen one gipsy working or going to school until I was 14 years old (when I met just one gipsy kid who was going to school and his parents were encoraging him to do that! ). They keep their own customs, speak their own language, refuse to work, to go to school or be integrated in any respect and they take pride in stealing and cheating the system. And yes, as I was growing up I heard many story about children being snatched by gipsy and sent to beg for them in different towns (after inflicting some kind of handicaps on them). They make their living making as many children as possible to gather money from state child support funds and to send them to beg for a living (they do the same with their elders). This is not a stereotype, unfortunately, it's the way they choose to live. I've been living in SUA for a couple of years now, traveled a lot and lived in small and big cities and if there are gipsies in America I haven't seen them (not even one)! If you go for a trip in Europe, on  the other hand, you will see plenty of them begging or stealing. 


Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/23/roma-writer-actually-stealing-children-isnt-our-favorite-pastime/#ixzz2ifIDYE2z

strangerdanger
strangerdanger

" Imagine, for a moment, if we routinely referred to suspects by their ethnicity instead of country of origin, so that English citizens of Caribbean descent would be described as a “black couple”

Apparently it has escaped this authors notice that the aforementioned behaviour has occurred for decades when news articles reference people of color. Criminals of african american descent are often described as "black"  whereas other raced criminals are described by their clothing or not at all. Just objectively read the language in your news this morning. Then read the comments sections when offenders are black for an extra taste.

dobigrig
dobigrig

Very one-sided and sometimes incorrect. Especially the "fact" that "Of the 10 million Roma scattered around the globe today, only several thousand still live in camps". The author should visit Romania or Bulgaria and see how the Roma live there. Camps would be actually better than the dirty-no-electricity-no-running-water settlements. And the people living in such conditions are much more than "several thousand". Child trafficking and benefits frauds among many other crimes do occur and this is not just a "saying", but registered and investigated crimes.

At the same time I do agree that racism and pre-judgement are big part of the problem and articles like this one should be popularized and more speakers for the Roma rights should come forward. Roma crimes start because they are refused jobs by racist employers and the Gypsies start seeing illegal activities as their only way of surviving. 



amother
amother

do come to Greece Mrs Marafioti and check the files of very many adoptions of gypsy children by Greeks and then you ll see that gypsies may not steal children but the DO SELL THEIR CHILDREN FOR VERY BIG MONEY, REALLY VERY BIG MONEY

amother
amother

you completely miss the point. Roma or gypsies do not live the same sort of life in all countries. In Spain for ex they are the flamenco people. In Greece it is not so. In your article you do NOT mention that these two adult Roma had many identity cards with different names ( legal according to you?), they declared that they  had 14 children that do NOT exist, that according to their declarations the woman gave birth 3 -4 times in a year , that they possessed illegally weapons and drugs, that they were robbing the state of more than 3000 dollars per month, as help for their non existent children, when families live with some 300 dollars per month, that they got paid to send their children to school (as all Roma in Greece do , but they keep the money, send the children for one week and then the children are sent to beg in the streets). You do not mention that Roma in Greece are caught every single day for theft, from money, to jewelry, to iron statues, to door knobs, to rails, for drug trafficking, prostitution , gun trafficking, etc you name it, it is there. You do not mention that they use as latrines, the parks, the side walks, the sea shore, that they  go and settle wherever they like, that they are the pest in rural areas as they steal crops, fruits, sheep, that they stab each other  very often, that little "Maria' would at the age of 9-10 be sold as wife to a rich Roma etc etc . You are most welcome to come and see them for yourself. You may be respectable in USA, but this is not he case in Greece. I wish they would like to keep their decent habits (not marriage at 10 and consummation of it at this age) and accept  soap and water, school,  law abiding etc

raji.alrazi
raji.alrazi

Once I met a beautiful Roma girl in London briefly. Still remember her as if it was yesterday.

#libtardedamerica
#libtardedamerica

"Stealing children is not Romas’ favorite pastime. We have plenty of our own, and as any parent can vouch, raising offspring takes time, money and the virtue of infinite patience."

it may not be your favorite, but it's the one you're most known for for a reason. and plenty of your own? did you not read anything about the case in greece? the more children they had, the more money the government would give them. i'm not saying all roma are, by nature, bad people. i'm just saying that when a large percentage of an ethnic group chooses to live outside the law (and don't give me any BS excuse on how you're forced to, that's clearly a lie as your own history would attest to) and try to game the system, certain stereotypes will begin to stick