Fox Talks About History

Romani Bucky

So, I keep banging on about Romani Bucky (and writing about him! The Atchin Tan http://archiveofourown.org/works/7639408/chapters/17393368 and Eggs & Coffee http://archiveofourown.org/works/8123758 both feature RomaniBucky)

Several of you glorious people have asked why I headcanon Bucky as Romani, and I’ve taken far too long to answer. But here it is.


So firstly, a little bit of History. What do we mean by Romani?

Romani is an ethnic group originating in India and dispersed across Europe and the Americas. We have language, culture, history and traditions, all unique depending on where our ancestors travelled and where we ended up. Though we have the same origins, a Roma in Spain (Gitano) is not the same as a Roma in Finland (Kaale)

(Note. Some of us find the word ‘Gypsy’ offensive. I, personally don’t, and will use it on occasion here where appropriate ie. in describing English Romanichal customs, where the term is commonplace and a descriptive. No offense is meant in these terms, and I hope that no offense is taken)


Okay, now onto a bit of history. Because if Romani people have been wandering around Europe for 800 years, what are they doing in 1940’s New York?

The start of the 1900’s were a bad time to be in Europe if you were Roma. Heck, it was pretty rough before, with strict border controls, Roma slavery and the German Heidenjachten (‘Gypsy Hunts’) of the early 1800’s.

In 1899 Nachrichtendienst in bezud auf die Zigeuner (The Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance) is established in Munich., collating reports of Roma movement throughout Germany. All Roma over the age of 6 are registered, photographs, fingerprints and family histories are recorded, resulting in the Zigeuner-Buch in 1905, a register of 5,000 Roma that demands that Roma are “a pest against which society must unflaggingly defend itself.”

(This document surfaces in the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. Incidentally, 1935 is the Year That Everything Awful That Could Happen happened)

Over the next few years ‘Gypsy licenses’ are introduced in Prussia, Switzerland & France. Roma children are removed from their families and put into foster homes.

Roma begin to flee for Western Europe. And Western Europe deport the Roma to the New World.


The majority of American Romani have assimilated, so it’s impossible to say for certain how many there are. Estimates are around the one million mark, with the largest concentrations in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast. Yes, the Northeast. That means New York, folks!


The first to arrive were the Romanichal (that’s what I am folks! We have paler complexions than the stereotype, brown hair, even blond. Blue eyes. We look like the rest of you Europeans), deported to Newfoundland from 1603 onwards, other European countries quickly followed suit.

It was an effective way of destroying an ethnic group, as the people were rounded up and packed onto ships. Those that survived the long sea voyage were sold into slavery.


The largest wave of Roma immigrants came from Romania in 1864 when Romani slavery was abolished (hey look, Romania. Funny that) and continued at a steady rate after, to the point where Roma were specifically excluded by US immigration policy in 1885, and many were returned to Europe.


So, the history over, lets get back to New York.


By 1940 New York was well known for its Romani population (between 7-12k estimated in 1942), mostly housed on the lower East side, Harlem and Brooklyn (HEY! Guess who we know who lives there!). The New Yorker wrote about Frankie Mitchell, Steve Kaslow and Johnny Nikanov, who all claimed to be King of the Gypsies.

A quick search for Gypsies at Ellis Island will bring you pictures of Romani families from the 1900’s onwards. Photographers like Lisette Model took pictures of Roma dressed in their finery or making money by reading palms and telling fortunes in the ‘40’s


Okay, Fox. So you’ve made a historical point. Roma would be fleeing Europe to the America’s at a really opportune time for Bucky to be Romani. But you’re gonna have to give me more than that.


Luckily, more is a thing that I can do!

Okay, so we’ve touched on physical appearance. How about culture?

Music and dancing, very much our thing. Sound like Bucky?

Cheap physical labour. Especially dockwork in 1930’s New York, which was lousy with the Irish, Travellers and Roma. Oh yeah, you know who I’m thinking of.


Boxing; in the stories you’ll often hear of Bucky boxing, even being a welterweight champion a few times. Boxing is one of the most important parts of a Romani mans life. One of the highest achievements a good Gypsy boy can manage is a bare-knuckle boxing title. Bartley Gorman, King of the Gypsies (a Romanichal honorific for the best bare knuckle fighter), was a bare knuckle boxer. Billy Marshall, Luis Welch… I could go on.


You want more? Okay. I got one more.

Bucky.

Funny name, isn’t it. A weird little nickname.

No.

Bucky is a nickname in Romanichal and Irish Traveller families, usually bestowed on the favourite son. I know three of ‘em.