Ethnic Culture and Culture of Poverty: the Gypsy/Roma

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Peter Szuhay asked in "Constructing a Gypsy National Culture" whether the Gypsies are an ethnic culture or a culture of poverty. I would like to argue that the Gypsy identity is a product of traditional ethnic culture as well as the product of a marginalized social stratum. There are many aspects of gypsy ethnic culture to which can be contributed to the result of marginalization and sometimes those same ethnic cultural traits become stereotypes to which society justifies their stigmatization and poverty. Thus emerges a pattern of both ethnic and social traits being interdependent, intertwined and self-perpetuated.

The intersection of the two conflicting cultures can be seen in the following statement made by many and is commonly heard. "I have a good friend who is a Gypsy, but he doesn't really count." "I'm not a raciest, I just hate Gypsies, but I have many Gypsy friends."

Within these two statements we can clearly see two distinct types of Gypsies. First is the socially rejected "Gypsies" who are disliked because they are viewed as lazy, poor, and feeds on social welfare, a widespread believe and stereotype held by European society for generations. The other is the accepted "Gypsy" friend whom we can assume is of middle or higher class, assimilated and integrated into the immediate general society thus they "don't really count." Yet we see in both statements that both use the same word to label two seemingly very different groups of people. This leads to the question, what commonality do they share that led to them being labeled a "Gypsy" even though they have obviously assimilated into society? There must be some type of ethnic culture that defined them beyond the culture of poverty.

Language, one of the most obvious trademarks of an ethnic culture, must be why an assimilated family of Romas is still "Gypsies." But according to Istavan Kemeny, in 1993 89.5% Roma speak Magyar as their native language in Hungary. However there are still...
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