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The Gypsies as a Minority Group in Italy

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Introduction

Although there is no official statistic, according to usually recognized estimates, in Italy reside roughly 150.000 Roma, Sinti and Camminanti (Sigona, 2005, p. 744). They are certainly a minority group in my country, as they represent just 0,25% of the population, but it may not be easy to measure the adaptation of this particular minority group, because their situation is slightly unusual.

Adaptation

As stated during the lectures, “adaptation” is a multi-dimensional issue and it depends on three key factors: duration of stay, “freedom of choice” (i.e. whether the migration is forced or voluntary) and skills and resources.

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Duration of Stay

The first settlements of Roma and Sinti in Italy date back to the fifteenth century – so they are not exactly a community of newcomers – and currently, about 60% of the “Gpysies” who are living in the country hold the Italian citizenship (Sigona, 2005, p. 744), thus it may not be correct to discuss of the “duration of their stay”.

‘Nomads’

The term “zingaro”, which is the Italian for “gypsy”, sounds quite offensive. To express yourself in a politically correct way, you should say “nomade” (the Italian for “nomadic”) as it is a more neutral expression, with “no judgement” in it. However, in many cases, the word “nomadic” can be misleading: Roma are usually sedentary (Sigona, 2005). Nevertheless, also at a political level, they are considered nomads and they are expected to live in “camps”. As Sigona (2005) states, many regional authorities in Italy issued laws to “protect the nomadic culture”, but the most significant of these measures concern the building of “camps for nomads”, which are not useful for integration, as they contribute to the isolation and labelling of Gypsies. Moreover, such camps are located only in disadvantaged areas (e.g. nearby prisons or landfills) and they are run by Italian local authorities as situations of “permanent emergency”, which means that they are managed as temporary solutions while they are not (Sigona, 2005).

Stereotypes

From a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (2014), resulted that 85% of Italians have unfavourable opinions of the Roma communities living in their country. The stereotypical representation of “Gypsies” generally includes concepts like “theft”, “dishonesty” and “dirt”; life in camps for nomads does not help to dismantle such prejudice. Indeed, according to Bauman (1990; 1992), one of the elements which perpetrate the image of Roma as “enemies”, is their “segregation” in camps, far from the rest of the society.

Salad Bowl

In my view, the situation between the dominant culture and minority groups in Italy could be better represented through the “salad bowl” metaphor rather than the “melting pot” one, because there is no pressure for assimilation. Croucher and Kramer (2016, p. 97) reported that “[…] as many scholars have pointed out, newcomers may not be accepted by the dominant culture” and as far as the Gypsies are concerned, this seems to be the case: there is a lack of efficient integration policies and of political acceptance. The “receiving environment” for Roma and Sinti is certainly not hospitable, as they are marginalised in camps and, like many immigrants, cannot make their voice heard. Their communications with the host culture are rare and frequently limited to interactions with NGO’s members (Sigona, 2005). The representation of Roma and Sinti on the national media does not aid their adaptation: especially on right wing newspapers, they are often talked about in a negative sense and this contributes to label their lifestyle as deviant.

Unvoluntary Migration

Regarding the second dimension of adaptation, some of the foreign Roma and Sinti are displaced people from the Balkans, so their migration was of course not voluntary: this might be an additional obstacle for their willingness to adapt, but I do not think it is the most relevant problem.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would argue that the adaptation of the Gypsy minority in my country has not almost started yet. Due to the legislation, the prejudice alimented by the lack of first-hand contact and few resources that Gypsies have available, they are not adequately integrated in the social fabric and, to this day, they are perceived as something that “do(es) not belong to Italy” (Sigona, 2005, p. 746).

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