For a number of weeks the deportation of Roma (Gypsy) people from France to Bulgaria and Romania has been in the news.
Xenophobia, or the fear of foreigners, is not unique to France. Racism and intolerance have long been issues the United States as well. Not so long ago, in the American South, blacks and whites were segregated. It was frowned upon for a white person to associate with blacks as friends, and there were seperate facilities, such as schools, for blacks and whites.
Even in the so-called enlightened 21st century racism and xenophobia are alive and well here in the States. The issue these days has to do people from Latin America, specifically, Mexico, who come here illegally looking for opportunity. There is a lot of discrimination against brown skinned people who speak Spanish, and a fear amongst some that they are taking over the country, and stealing American jobs.
The Mexicans, for the most part, are migrant workers, and do jobs most Americians shun. Poverty is rampant in Mexico, and when you're starving, you'll do almost anything to survive. And unfortunately, there are a number of them who are involved with drug smuggling. You will find a bad element in every ethnic group.
A much more humane solution would be for the U.S. government to offer temporary work permits to migrant workers. And of course, Mexico, and the other nations of Latin America need to do more for their own people.
The point I'm trying to make is that people are afraid of what they know little about. Racism, xenophobia, and intolerance stem from ignorance. During hard economic times, the illegal Mexicans make convenient scapegoats.
Deportation is seen as the answer to the problem.
The Roma situation in France is similar in some ways to the Mexican situaion in the States. People in Europe see the Roma as people with a bad reputation, who live in poverty and get involved in criminal activity. There are good and bad people in every ethnic group,and the Roma are no exception.
Despite the poverty and discrimination these people suffered (Hitler tried to exterminate them in concentration camps), somehow the Roma managed to survive. They found they could make a decent living as musicians. And they were very good at what they did, to the point that Roma music has very much become a part of the musical fabric of the Balkans.
Here are several stellar examples of the musical contribution that the Roma people have made to Balkan music. The first is a song by Esma Redzepova, from Macedonia:
Esma is well known for her involvement in advocacy programs for her people and humanitarian work:
Here's a song I really love, a very catchy tune from Bulgaria called Karavana Chajka. The dance for it is called Čoček (pronounced cho-chek, a dance of Romani origin, and the words are in the Romani language). You can sing along with the lyrics and read the translation here:
Romani brass music has had a strong influence on Balkan bands in the United States as well, who have fallen in love with this lively and spirited genre. Here is the Raya band from New York City playing Ciganko.
For more on the Roma influence in the Balkans read:
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