Origins of the Romani
The Johns family of National Geographic Channel’s American Gypsies has been in the United States for many decades—about six generations. Settling in Manhattan, the Johns family has been a prominent part of the New York (and U.S.) Romani community, owning psychic and healing shops in New York City. It might surprise you to know that there are about one million Romani in the U.S., living in both rural and urban communities across the country, from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York.
Worldwide, there are Romani communities in much of Europe, but especially Eastern and Central Europe, Spain, and Southern France, having emigrated there from India more than 800 years ago. There are significant communities as well in England, Wales and Scandinavia.
Although most Americans refer to this ethnic group as “gypsies,” they are actually called Romani or Rom. “Gypsy,” considered by most Romani to be derogatory, originates from the Greek word for Egyptian, suggesting that perhaps some Romani may have at one time originated there rather than India, emigrating to the Balkans (especially Albania).
Persecuted as a people all over Europe, Romani began coming to the Americas as early as colonial times, when Portugal deported huge numbers of Romani to Brazil. Many U.S. Romani came here during the major waves of European immigration in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, escaping centuries of ethnic persecution in their adopted countries. The largest waves of Romani emigration to the U.S. were in 1864 after the abolishment of Romani slavery in the Balkans. More recently, a large influx of Romani came the U.S after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Like the Jews, the Romani were targeted for genocide by the Nazis during World War II, sent to concentration camps and exterminated. The Nazis murdered an estimated 220,000 to 1.5 million Romani during the Porajmos.Continued on the next page