Monday, July 24, 2006

Melting Pot

This post may get me in hot water and I apologize for making broad sweeping statements based only on my gut feelings. My observations are far from scientific. But, I believe Europe has under the surface racism that is worse than the United States. The recent wars have been ethnic based. Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991. According to Rick Steves, it was a simple break because 90% of Slovenia is ethnic Slovene. I have no idea what ethnic Slovene means because virtually everybody in Slovenia looked like Aunt Mabel and Uncle Lou from Iowa.

Likewise, in Hungary, 90% of the population is ethnic Hungarian or Magyar. We know the Nazis wiped out the Jewish population almost completely. So the typical Hungarian to us looks like Aunt Verna or Uncle Herman from Ohio. The people in these countries are proud of their ethnic heritage but it also seems to me that they enjoy their ethnic homogeneity. To me, this crosses the line into intolerance and even hatred. Exhibit number one is the bloody war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovena in the 1990's where Serbs, Croats and Muslims attempted to get rid of each other because of close living quarters. It is too complicated for me to understand or explain. Basically, the different ethnic groups do not like one another and they do not want to live with one another. It would be like Uncle Lou wanting to kill Uncle Herman and burn his house down even though both Aunt Mabel and Aunt Verna make povatica. I don't get it.

So why is all of this of any interest to me? Because of my children. My husband's family has some mysterious bloodlines. Supposedly, they are of English and German ancestory but the black hair, dark eyes, large noses, and dark skin clearly come from someplace else. My husband doesn't look this way though he has olive toned skin that darkens in the sun but his sister could be Greek or Italian or Israeli. My daughter looks like her Mediterranean-looking Aunt and cousins. Dave's Mom always said the dark skin was from the German blood.

Our theory is that the mysterious bloodline may actually be Roma. Many of these people, in order to escape oppression and persecution, immigrated to America where they became known as Black Deutsch (or German). Some of them settled in Pennsylvania. We know the German side of Dave's family originally settled in Pennsylvania so the big leap we are making is that maybe they were Gypsy or the more PC term, Roma. It seems to explain everything. In Hungary and Slovenia, where 10% of the people are not ethnic Slovene or Magyar, they are in large part, Roma.

Who are the Gypsies?? They are not liked much nor have they ever been. This is why some of them managed to come to America in earlier years and they would pass themselves off as other more "acceptable" immigrants like Germans or Italians. A half million of them were murdered by the Nazis in the concentration camps along with the Jews. These days they are a minority in Hungary and Slovakia and you see them in tourist hot spots all over Europe. As a matter of fact, I was robbed by a Gypsy mother half my size and her children in Rome many years ago. I thought they were after puppets I'd purchased for my children. I assumed I had successfully fended them off only to find a couple of hours later, they'd managed to steal the equivalent of $50 from my fanny pack. It was not a pleasant experience but I felt then and now that the woman in rags holding the baby needed that $50 more than I did.

The Gypsies are the "forgotten" population according to Rick Steves. (pp. 136-173 in "Best of Eastern Europe 2005) They originated in India and arrived in Europe through Turkey in the 1300's. The language they speak is derived from Indian dialects and typically, they have dark skin and hair. They are largely unemployed, extremely poor, and they do resort to stealing for survival. Rick Steves points out that while 3% of Hungary's population is Roma, two-thirds of the prison inmates are Gypsies. They tend to me nomadic, independent, and musical. Dave's sister, who cannot settle in one place or stay put for more than a couple of weeks is certain she has Gypsy blood. I look at my nomadic son and musical Greek-looking daughter and wonder.....?!

Sadly, it is completely acceptable to discriminate against the Roma and to publicly hate them. The different ethnic groups that hate one another all hate the Gypsies. Kaley was disturbed by this in Slovenia thinking that the Roma may be her people. One night at dinner at one of the sidewalk cafes in Ljubljana, Kaley stated she was certain that her ethnically diverse group of friends from Mukilteo may not be welcome in lily white Slovenia. She might be right. Sure, there were Japanese tourist groups but you see them all over the entire world. Very few darker skinned people were anywhere. Lucas chimed in that the World Cup announcers in Europe were horribly racist when talking about different teams. I was shocked to see racist images on African coffee packages in the grocery store in France, Hungary, and Slovenia. And in Vienna near the big ferris wheel, we saw "North American Indian" performers doing war dances with feathered bonnets. It was horrifying because the individuals probably came from South America and they were decorated with a hodge podge of pseudo-Indian costumes and "war" paint. It was a terribly racist spectacle---right there in Austria.

So what is going on? European countries have thus far managed to stay ethnically homogenous. But now that many Middle Eastern and African immigrants have moved into France and England, there have been problems with assimilation. Outright ethnic hatred is boiling just beneath the surface of much of white Europe and it erupts every few years into riots and full blown wars. Exhibit number two--the riots in France shortly before Christmas. I think Europe has a bigger resistance to a mixed up population than we do. Of course, we have issues---we tried genocide to wipe out our North American Indians and we condoned and participated in the horrors of slavery and some idiots think we should build a wall on our southern border.

But, the next time you visit an American mall, just look at people. Really really look at them. People are short, tall, curly haired, blonde, dark haired, brown eyes, blue eyes and skin of virtually every tone of beige and brown. We all have unbelievable ethnic mixes--African, Indian, Italian, German, Irish, Mexican, Peruviian, Swedish, Norwegian, English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Philipino, Serbian, and maybe even Gypsy!

Hungary is not like this nor is Slovenia. The United States is not perfect but truly we are one gigantic melting pot. Uncle Herman and Uncle Lou may act like they still want to kill each other---but it is probably over a football game.