The Justice Center serves as an incubator for the Roma Peoples Project (RPP), which deals with Roma self-portrayal and portrayal by others. The RPP is in line with the centre's mission to empower vulnerable people who suffer from criminalized identity, discrimination, stigma and lack of integration into majority society. It aims to identify, centralize, investigate and curate images and information about the Roma in order to bring them to academic and public awareness.
The plight of the Roma
For some, the term Roma is alien and unfamiliar, but the term gypsy (as well as traveler) often serves as a generally accepted reference point. However, this word can conjure up negative images of beggars and pickpockets, or romantic images such as fortune tellers and dancers. As a result, many people, especially in the United States, believe that gypsy relates only to a lifestyle and not an ethnic group. Others mistakenly assume that gypsies are a thing of the past.
In reality, the Roma came from northern India and immigrated to Europe about a thousand years ago. Roma sub-groups went through periods of nomadism which are a permanent part of the public perception of the Gypsies. Today, most Roma are sedentary or semi-sedentary and the population in Europe is estimated at around 8-12 million.
Estimates vary because many Roma hide their ethnicity. Nonetheless, the Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority and there are significant populations around the world. The New York area is a particularly prominent center for the Roma.
Global Importance of the Roma Peoples Project
It is a challenge to find material on the Roma. The Roma never had their own nation-state or a geographical home area and therefore often appear as a subject that is tangential to other regions or fields of study. As a result, few institutions focus on acquiring material on Roma or organizing the information in their collections.
These complications, combined with budgetary constraints and the lack of Roma experts, mean that books, scholarly documents and other material on Roma are falling through the internet, denying people the opportunity to gain insight into the Roma experience. A digital archive would provide easily accessible resources.
Although there is a large Roma population in the United States, they are generally underrepresented in academia and society. The Roma Peoples Project would hopefully address this lack of visibility and empower Roma in the US and worldwide and inspire a new generation of Roma to be proud of their cultural identity.
There are many meaningful and varied Roma stories to be told, shared and heard. The Roma Peoples Project will be a forum and a treasure trove for these voices, images, stories and legends about both Roma and Roma.