I can not even begin to imagine what I would do if this happened to my family. Let’s say you were in the privacy of your own home when your house is raided. Not for drugs or guns or something else illicit but rather the police are there claiming that the child in your care – your child – is not yours. Your child is taken away and put into protective custody and suddenly your child is headline news with the world wondering who she is.
A bizarre nightmare right? But that is just what happened when to a Roma family in Dublin, Ireland. According to reports, the authorities got a tip that the blond-haired 7-year-old girl did not belong to the family she lived with. This came on the heels of the revelation that a young child – who goes by the names Maria – traveling with a Roma family in Greece was not theirs. Due to this headline news story, Roma wariness was on the rise.
The parents in Ireland gave DNA samples to the Dublin police which proved they were, indeed, the parents. It appears that with the high profile nature of the “mystery-girl” in Greece, Roma families, particularly those with blond children, are meeting more scrutiny than usual. But in this case, as “the Dublin family may well be innocent victims of circumstances.” Wrong time, wrong place, wrong ethnicity But this is nothing new, the Roma people have been discriminated for eons.
“If the words gypsy or traveler were replaced with Muslim, gay, lesbian, Asian or Jew, most decent citizens would not talk in such negative terms,” says Isaac Blake, director of the Cardiff-based Romani Cultural and Arts Company. “We need to respect a long-standing heritage and culture. We need to learn more about marginalized groups, reach out and accept, not base our judgments on ignorance and fear. If we condemn Roma, gypsies and travelers, we are simply keeping the doors open for wider prejudice.”
And to be a gypsy, now, is harder than it’s been in decades. My mother-in-law would often use the threat of “you’ll be stolen by gypsies,” if her children tried to wander off or leave the house unattended when they were young. An idea, now, that seems antiquated like telling children to finish their dinner because, “children are starving in China.” (Yes, there are children starving in China, but finishing your dinner here in the states isn’t going to help them). But now the idea of the myth of the gypsy kidnapping is on a comeback.
“The revival of the medieval myth around gypsy child-stealing comes when Greece is going through its worst crisis since the Fifties,” says Blake. “Ireland’s economy has collapsed utterly. The old, tried and trusted ways of distracting anger, frustration and attention are being rolled out again.”
But prejudice towards the Roma seems to be something far more prevalent in Europe than in the United States, even though the we have – reportedly – over a million Roma living here, but they have assimilated more seamlessly into the melting pot that is America. If we saw a blond haired blue eyed child living with brunette parents we would think nothing of it.
What adds fuel to the fire is the rumored reopening of Madeleine McCann case, the young blond girl that went missing in Portugal in 2007. The McCanns’ spokesman Clarence Mitchell said yesterday: “These two cases have given Kate and Gerry renewed hope for their daughter. “Whenever any child is recovered in circumstances like this it gives Kate and Gerry hope that Madeleine, too, will also be found.”
Let’s hope that the gypsy communities don’t face more discrimination due to the little girl found in Greece, especially if their offspring don’t totally resemble mom or dad.
Photo Source: Handout Photo by Hellenic Police