Throughout the world there are an estimated 15 million Romani [RO-ma-nee] people. Also known as the Roma, they exist primarily as Others in the communities and nation-states they travel through or have settled in for centuries. They are commonly called “gypsies,” a term many view as a racial slur.
Their region of origin is thought to be India. (The different Romani dialects have linguistic links to Sanskrit.) The Roma likely migrated from the subcontinent over many years, arriving in Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Europeans thought the Roma had come from Egypt (hence “gypsy”) or were of Turkish origin. All agreed they were not white Europeans. As the Romani moved farther from their homeland, their language and culture evolved into multiple subgroups, and they were scapegoated, jailed, and scorned — especially in Romania, where the Roma were enslaved for five hundred years. (Romani does not mean “Romanian.”) By some estimates around half a million Roma were killed during the Holocaust, but other historians put the number as high as three times that.