Gypsy/Roma/Travelers have been discriminated against for centuries in Europe. Hitler deemed the Roma an inferior race that might taint the blood of the Germanic peoples and promptly murdered tens of thousands of them. In England it’s now extremely difficult to live a nomadic life because the traditional stopping places have been closed to the traveling people and, with the exception of some government sites, only unauthorized sites have replaced them. The British government is currently trying to change the definition of a Gypsy or Traveller (British spelling) to be someone who actually travels (i.e. leads a nomadic lifestyle). Wait! What! Gypsies and Travelers can’t live a traveling life because the work they used to do has gone and so have their stopping places, and because of that they’ll no longer be considered Gypsies or Travelers, even though they have a rich distinct culture with its own values and traditions regardless of whether they travel or not. Discrimination and prejudice against the traveling people is alive and well. “It’s just a definition” you might say. But it has tremendous legal implications to these people and is another effort to marginalize them further.
I didn’t know when I began writing LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY that one of my characters would be a Gypsy. But Elijah walked onto the pages and stayed and so I owed it to him to do considerable research about his people and try and represent them accurately. Through that research I met Maggie Smith Bendell - a feisty tireless advocate for the Gypsy/Roma/Traveler community in England. I’m lucky to count Maggie a friend and have learned a lot about the traveling people from her. And if Maggie ever heard you use the word “gypped” I think that would be the last time you used it.