Identity and Music with KAL and KAMOSI

Identity and Music with KAL and KAMOSI

The larger KAMOSI Youth Group will be marking International Romani Day on Tuesday 8 April with a very special show featuring a variety of music, beatboxing, theatre, dance, poetry and multi-media that they have developed with arts organisation Community Arts North West.

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 Ian Hancock Interview 

An Interview with Ian Hancock Professor of Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin
by PATRICIA KRANISH

WE ARE THE ROMANI PEOPLE, Ian Hancock

WE ARE THE ROMANI PEOPLE, Ian Hancock

IAN HANCOCK

IAN HANCOCK

Professor Hancock is the ultimate source for all things Roma, quoted assiduously in interviews, education journals, and scholarly publications. His books include We Are the Romani People, The Pariah Syndrome, and Danger! Educated Gypsy, in addition to hundreds of articles, many of which are accessible on line. So why does he agree, that after a brilliant, award-winning career that spans more than forty years, he is still, “a marginal man…torn between the pariah status of his people and the embrace of a dominant culture which can hardly conceive of such a monster as an educated Gypsy.”*

In answer to my first question, Professor Hancock says we should complain about biased media coverage. Coincidentally, while I was checking my email, an AP News article called Gypsies take curious route through US to asylum popped up. I copied it to my desktop to read later. When I returned to look at it again it was no longer on the website. I wondered if Professor Hancock had somehow caught it, and if it was he, or some other like-minded gadfly, who objected to the underlying language of contempt. It takes enormous dedication and stamina to write as prolifically and as well as he does. He answers every inquiry and request for his opinion (even though it’s mostly on the record). He responds to every recurrence of stereotyping and fights for Romani rights in the United States and internationally—an uphill battle few Americans are even aware of. “So who are we?” he asks.,To those who want to know, Ian Hancock is a true guide to the complex world of the Romani people.

 

Interviewer: Pat Kranish

The press in the United States wrote sporadically this summer about efforts by France and of Norway (who, ironically, gave you the Rafto prize) to deport the Roma living there to Romania and Bulgaria where many have said that they are treated badly. How can someone living in the United States influence what goes on in Europe?

Hancock

Inform friends, write to foreign embassies, complain about biased media coverage.

Interviewer

There was a recent story about a 2007 decision made by the European Court of Human Rights to desegregate schools in the Czech Republic. Many human rights activists thought that this case would be the Roma’s Brown vs. Board of Education, but five years later Roma children are still being disproportionately sent to schools for the mentally disabled, and more than half of Roma children in Europe do not attend school at all. What should be the next step to insure that Roma children have the opportunity to get a good education?

Hancock

It’s about priorities. The new democracies spend their money on fixing the roads, not on bilingual/bicultural education, which are foreign concepts to them. Ethnic nationalism is something (most) Americans don’t contend with; “American” is a nationality, not an ethnicity. But in Bulgaria, or Romania, or Slovakia, &c., if you aren’t ethnically Bulgarian, or Romanian, or Slovakian, regardless of how long you’re family has lived there, you don’t belong. Communism didn’t look at history, and so there was no awareness made of Romani history, and the fact that many of the current social problems are not of the Roma’s making. General education will lead to specific educational opportunities for Roma. For discussion of schooling, see the chapter on education in Danger! Educated Gypsy.

Interviewer

In an interview by Josh Harris, he mentions that you are the Romani delegate to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Are you still? Do you feel that the Roma, despite your efforts, continue to be left out of the Master Narrative of history?

Hancock

No. We haven’t had representation for the past 12 years.

Interviewer

In the forward to The Pariah Syndrome, Dr. T. A. Acton says you are a marginal man. Do you feel that, after all you have accomplished, this continues to describe you?

Hancock

Yes. I’ve battled with my own university for 40 years to get Romani Studies established, with no success. No one’s interested. You might find an article somewhere in this – talk to administrators here to find out why.

Interviewer

Very little of the history of Native Americans, or the true and brutal history of slavery in the U.S. is taught in schools here (I was a teacher and often went beyond the subscribed curriculum). Have would you propose to include Roma history, for instance, in the Texas public schools?

Hancock

Easily done, just include it. But there won’t be changes in Texas at least, for several more years. I am a state commissioner on the Texas holocaust and Genocide Commission

Interviewer

Laws in the U.S. regarding slavery, and later, miscegenation are not only concurrent, but almost word for word the same as laws regarding Roma slavery and restrictions in Europe. Many people don’t want to be reminded of what their ancestors suffered. Have you found that the Roma find the history of the last 1000 years too difficult to dwell on? How do convince them otherwise?

Hancock

American Roma have completely obliterated the memory of it. The word we have for “slave” (rròbo) means “lazy person” in American Romani, and the word for slavery (rrobìja) here means “jail.”

Interviewer

Has any progress been made regarding reparations for the massive losses suffered in the Porrajmos?

Hancock

No, still waiting, especially for remuneration from the “looted Swiss assets.”

Interviewer

If you were interviewing you, what question would you ask yourself, and how would you answer it?

Hancock

Why do people cling to the “happy and free singing and dancing wandering Gypsies” image when so much is now available about the actual situation?

Because deconstructing that image takes time and effort, and because the true situation is not an attractive one, and not one that people would want to “escape” into. And recognizing the severity of the situation (www.errc.org, www.erio.org) would mean feeling guilty and maybe being expected to do something about it.

Interviewer

You write for scholarly journals, which by their nature, limit access for many people. Have you considered writing in another venue, perhaps in memoir form, to have a wider appeal?

Hancock

I’m writing an autobiography, and a Festschrift** about me is being put together. I do a lot of speaking, especially to Jewish organizations and at universities.

*Professor Thomas A. Acton, Chair of Romani Studies, University of Greenwich

**A volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar

 

 

Contributing Writer Pat Kranish left New York four years ago to live in Las Vegas. She is working on a collection called Tales Out of School, based on her experiences as a high school teacher in Brooklyn in addition to a series of interviews of extraordinary people – this interview with Ian Hancock is the result of one of them.

 

 

Professor Ian Hancock is the ultimate source for all things Roma, quoted assiduously in interviews, education journals, and scholarly publications. His books include We Are the Romani PeopleThe Pariah Syndrome, and Danger! Educated Gypsy, in addition to hundreds of articles, many of which are accessible on line.

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