'My Big Fat Gypsy' Stereotype Is Over. Say Hello To The Real Gypsies.

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They’re not mythical characters from old movies or the stereotypes portrayed in modern media. Rich in culture and history, the Roma (gypsies) are the fastest growing demographic in Europe. All they’re asking is to have the same rights as everyone else. Right now, it's not even close.

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Narrator: The Roma People, often called gypsies, arrived from India centuries ago and moved throughout Europe. Denied professions and land, they roamed in caravans with trades handed down through generations. Musicians, craftsman, horse traders, performers; they were objects of suspicion and mythology, victims of persecution, discrimination, slavery, and genocide.

Today, an estimated ten million Roma live across Europe. They come from diverse tribes and clans, with varying dialects and religions. Pushed to the margins of society, the Roma have made their homes in cities, suburbs, and isolated villages across Europe. Roma communities face eviction, harassment, deportation, overt public racism, ethnic violence, and pogroms. In 2010, hundreds of Roma were expelled from France, while in Italy, thousands have been left homeless as their camps are systematically demolished. According to the Washington Post, the deputy mayor of Milan has described gypsies as, "dark skinned people, not European, like you and me." Fewer than 40% of Roma children receive a basic primary education. 26% of Roma in central and Eastern Europe are completely illiterate. Roma communities have minimal access to health care, resulting in a child mortality rate three times higher than majority population. In Romania, 68% of Roma households reported having their children go hungry for lack of food at least once in the previous month. Most vulnerable of all, Roma girls often face child marriage, early child birth, and community pressure to abandon education. Roma are also the fastest growing demographic in Europe, with a young population in search of a living wage, and a place to make a home. There are doctors and lawyers, beggars and performers, students and teachers, voters and leaders. To survive and prosper they fight entrenched poverty and distrust with hope, education, and activism.

Roma are European citizens, endowed with full rights and responsibilities, but largely excluded from the benefits of democratic freedom and economic progress. But recently, law makers and international institutions have been putting Roma on the World's agenda. The European Union is working towards a common Roma strategy, The Decade of Roma Inclusion, a coordinated 10 year effort by 12 countries in central and eastern Europe, aims to measurably improve Roma welfare by 2015.

Since 2003, the National Democratic Institute, or NDI, has empowered Roma communities to speak out and make change real through the ballot box, media advocacy, and local government. Change is happening. In 2004, Hungary elected Livia Euroga[SP] as the first Romani member of European Parliament. Throughout the region,Romani enter politics as local counselors, mayors, and members of Parliament, looking to give their people a voice in government. In Slovakia alone, voters elected 29 Roma candidates, including one woman, to lead their communities as mayors. Armed with new political tools, and a strong belief in their own ability to affect change, the Roma are advocating for a better life, and reconciliation through civic activism and community organization. Who are the Roma?

[speech in Romani language]

We are the Roma.

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Thanks to the National Democratic Institute for presenting the short film "Who Are the Roma." And much respect to composer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer, who wrote the score.

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