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Romani Mobilities

Project by Esteban Acuna (Doctoral Candidate)

Romani Mobilities across the Atlantic: An Ethnography of movement and connections among Romani Groups

 

esteban-fieldworkThe focus of the present research project, part of my doctoral dissertation, is tracing trans-Atlantic connections among Romani groups in the recent context of the European Union expansion. The ongoing literature revision that accompanies this endeavor reveals an overwhelming trend: considering Romani groups as a ‘European minority’ and, even more challenging, their mobilities as a ‘problem’. Trans-national movements across the Atlantic have not received proper attention (except for a few noted exceptions), even though multiple ‘diasporas’, ‘migration routes and processes’, and ‘networks’ have been identified. Even more, most, if not all, countries in the Americas count Romani population among their nationals. These flows of people and ideas have resulted in dynamics of exchange between specific localities in the European sub-continent and the Americas. They evidently surpass national and continental borders and cannot be overlooked when analyzing both past and contemporary situations of groups labeled as ‘Gypsies’. The objective of the project is to account for their diverse and rich mobilities in a trans-Atlantic context, through the description and analysis of quotidian social life.

Ethnographic tracing has concentrated on three specific ‘contact zones’: Toronto, Budapest and Bogota. The sites explored were chosen given their importance as ‘nodes’ or ‘hubs’ for several Romani groups; places where kinship, religious, political, business, academic, and other exchanges are intertwined in daily life. Budapest was considered for its role as the most important contemporary center of Romani activism and an emitting hub for the most recent flow of population to the Americas. Toronto, as the receiver of these recent waves of migration, stands as perhaps the most important center for Romani populations outside of Europe. Finally Bogota, city that has acted as a layover in the numerous exchanges between North and Central America and South America, and host of the most successful Romani activist initiatives in the latter. ‘Mobile ethnography’ has been developed as the most suitable research design, allowing for the use of techniques such as ‘go-alongs’, biographical semi-structured interviews and participant-observation, according to specific situations that arise while making sense of the bigger picture of trans-local relations. It is in this way that the project proposes to empirically grasp the complex processes composed of networks and exchanges held across the Atlantic.

The richness of the empirical field described supports the initial hypothesis of it being a privileged ground to gain insights on representations (e.g. the Gypsy, the Nomad, the migrant, the refugee), migration, securitization, and trans-national networks and connections. Ethnography allows then to link these developments with the mobile practices and daily experiences of populations amid these ‘global’ trends. The project relies on a multi-disciplinary approach, where insights of the recent ‘mobility turn’ complement scholarly perspectives from Romani, Migration, Diaspora, Border and Refugee Studies. A critical view of the movement of people allows to link the wide diversity of cases, networks and connections gathered with trends in geopolitics, ‘mobility regimes’ and ‘imagined communities’. Furthermore, it allows to address complexity and diversity beyond limiting binary or generalizing categories such as: nomad/sedentary, migrant/citizen, migrant/expat, refugee/labor migrant, ‘true’ and ‘false’ refugees, among others.

 

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