A few years ago, I found out my father is Roma. He had told my mom and us kids he had darker skin because he was part Cherokee. I had come to doubt him, so I got a DNA test. No Native American blood at all. I confronted him, and he admitted the truth. Roma, with some Jewish ancestry as well.
I can kind of understand. From what I’ve read, a lot of Roma have strong internalized racism. Dad could pretend he wasn’t Roma, so he did. Still does — he swore me to secrecy, but given that he’s treated me like shit my whole life, I feel no need to keep that oath. Also, it’s my heritage too, and I refuse to feel shame over it.
(After all, he’s ashamed to have a child who’s transgender and queer, and he hates that I’m so far out of the closet about it. He and I don’t talk much. He voted for Trump, I mean… ugh.)
So I am didicoi — half Roma, half gadje. I know little about my father’s side of the family, as my grandparents died in a car accident when I was 12. My mother knew them, though, and they were somewhat typical poor Southerners. (Both my parents were born and raised in Kentucky.) She never would have guessed they were Roma, so I don’t know at what point they assimilated, but I know there are other Roma families in that area because my dad and his high school girlfriend looked as though they could have been related.
When I found out my true ancestry, I tried to learn some about what I was, but didn’t have much luck finding info. So I stopped looking for a while. But this last week I did a few Zoom meetings, and I was shocked to see how dark I looked compared to the fully white people in the chats. I did the meetings in different rooms, and I used different devices too; it wasn’t the lighting or my webcam making me look darker. I found it kind of shocking, because I was raised to think of myself as mostly white, and compared to Dad I’m pale. But here I was, looking dark compared to my friends. It was interesting. I pass as white, but I’m obviously not as pale as I thought I was! Strange how perceptions change.
It got me wanting to look up more about my ancestry again, and I was lucky enough to come across the Romani Rainbow Tumblr. LGBTQ+ Roma? Yes please! Through that blog I found ROMBASE, which I’ve been reading this morning, and I bought Ronald Lee’s Learn Romani language book last night. I’m thinking about temporarily signing up for Ancestry.com as well, because I know my dad has done a lot of geneaology stuff there and I want to see my paternal family history.
(I know my maternal history. My grandmother was a geneaology fiend, long before the days of the internet and digitized records. Mom is half Irish descent, half German-and-Russian. But really, both sides of her family were in America by the mid-1800s. Culturally I’m a Southerner more than anything else.)
Yeah, I think I’ll sign up for Ancestry.com. All my dad’s ever told me is that my ggg-grandmother listed her occupation as “spinner” on the census, which he thinks is cool because I spin professionally as well. (That could indicate long-ago assimilation, because AFAIK Roma don’t have a textile-making tradition.)
So yeah, I want to learn more.
Oh, random comment about my dad’s family: I do know my grandparents were polyamorous. Not in those terms, but Grandma had a male lover who regularly ate dinner with the family when my dad was growing up, and the lover fathered one of my aunts.
I also know my grandparents were awful to their children and very abusive. I don’t blame my dad for hating where he comes from, but I do blame him for not being a better person than he is. He never hit us kids, but he was still an ass, and continues to be one to this day. Oh well. At least my mom turned out awesome, even though her parents were flawed too. Oh, the stories I could tell, but won’t because it would embarrass Mom… :)