April 2017

A Life in the Margins: Understanding the Roma Experience

In recognition of International Roma Day, Weatherhead Faculty Associates Jacqueline Bhabha and Jennifer Leaning, and their colleague, Roma Program Director Margareta Matache, discuss the annual conference and their team’s research on a disenfranchised people.

Image of Roma painting

In one of the popular Madeline children’s stories, the well-known redheaded French schoolgirl runs away with her friend Pepito to join a caravan of Gypsies who train them to perform in their traveling circus. At first they are thrilled not to have to go to school or brush their teeth. But when they become homesick, the Gypsy mother sews them into a lion costume, effectively kidnapping them.

Of course it ends well, with a rescued Madeline exchanging farewells with the affectionate Gypsy mother and children and returning to boarding school.

Is this a harmless children’s adventure story or does it perpetuate an enduring stereotype of criminality and indifference among a little-understood ethnic group? The educational crisis of Romani children (pejoratively referenced as “Gypsies”) is just one of many research topics spearheaded by a faculty team from the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center on Health and Human Rights at Harvard.