A Guide to Knowing Roma


Released in January 2017, The Roma Guide was initiated by freelance journalist Juliana Da Penha and cartoonist Alexandre De Maio. The guide features 10 facts that different members of Roma communities selected as things they wanted people to know about their identity, culture and history. The aim of the guide, illustrated by Alexandre, is to breakdown stereotypes, negative perceptions and myths surrounding Roma communities.

"We believe that comics are a powerful and innovative tool to discuss social/political issues and a creative way to inform and educate," says Juliana, who also works for Friends of Romano Lav, an organisation working to challenge discrimination and disadvantage experienced by Roma migrant communities in Glasgow. "It’s important that this a collaborative work and that the topics were selected by Roma people themselves." By allowing Roma to shape their own narratives, the project hopes to be not only informative but also empowering.

Below you can read the guide, published in English for the first time:


The Roma Guide

10 facts people should know about Roma

Text by Juliana da Penha, Illustrations by Alexandre De Maio

The Roma communities are one of the minorities who most suffer with racism in Europe. Since their arrival in Europe from India (around the 13th century) they have been targets of persecution and are marginalised up to this day. Popular knowledge about Roma culture is based on myths and negative portrayals, broadcasted by media sensationalism.

This guide was created in collaboration with some members of Roma communities from Eastern Europe (Romania, Slovak and Hungary) resident in the United Kingdom, to show what they would like others to know about their people, culture and lifestyle.  The Roma guide is a project created in partnership with the charity Friends of Romano Lav and its aim is to stimulate the deconstruction of stereotypes, creating a bridge for intercultural dialogue.

 1 – The largest ethnic minority in Europe

The Roma are the largest minority in Europe, according to the European Commission. There are no official statistics but there are an estimated 10,000,000 – 12,000,000 Roma in all of Europe. They do not only come from Romania as many people wrongfully think, but from different European countries.

2 – Originated in Northern India

Researchers in a variety of fields such as linguistics, cultural anthropology and genetics have found that Roma originate in Northern India. Although there is no accurate data on when they left India, there is evidence that during the 3rd and 5th centuries they began their journey towards the West. More evident records show a strong presence in Europe since the 13th century. There are Roma living on every other continent.

3 – Gypsy or Roma?

 The term gypsy carries many prejudices. In 1971, at the 1st World Romani Congress held in London, the words Roma and Romani (‘Rom’, meaning ‘man’ in Romani language) were chosen to define this ethnic group.  The terminology Roma was widely accepted across the European continent, although some groups still use the word gypsy to describe themselves.

For many the word gypsy is offensive. For example, in one Romanian Language dictionary, “tigan” (gypsy) is described (with a negative connotation) as “a dark-skinned person” or “a person with bad habits”.


Roma have been victims of persecution since their arrival in Europe. For 500 years, Roma were slaves in Romania (Wallachia, Moldova, Transylvania). The Roma Holocaust (also known as Porajmos) is always left behind during the commemorations of the Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January). Only in 2015, did the European Parliament vote to adopt a resolution which recognises “the historical fact of the genocide of Roma that took place during World War II”. The Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked on 2 August, evokes the lives of more than 500,000 Roma taken during the Porajmos.

5 – Cultural Diversity

The Roma are a heterogeneous community, with different languages, cultures, religions, traditions, and norms. The different sub-groups can be understood in the context of the history of their country of origins. Some Roma speak Romani (a common language among several Roma groups) together with the language of their country of origin. Others speaks only their national language. Although they do form a heterogeneous group, Roma maintain a sense of belonging to unified, unique culture.

 6 - They are not always nomads

Although Roma are often described as leading a nomadic way of life, 95% of European Roma have fixed housing. The main reasons for migrating are to find opportunities denied in their home countries and escape from the racism perpetuating their marginalisation.

 7 – Prejudice

Roma suffer greatly from the effects of poverty and social exclusion. They suffer discrimination in the areas of education, employment, housing and health, and are often prevented from gaining social protection. In countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, Roma children are often registered in schools for children with learning disabilities. In some places, many families are forcibly evicted without notice and in some cities there are walls to separate Roma from their non-Roma neighbours.

Roma do not have an independent nation state to provide structure in a certain geographical area. This means that Roma do not have a unified political body to look at and defend their best interests.

8 – The Roma Day

8 April was officially declared the International Roma Day in 1990 in Serock, Poland, during the fourth World Romani Congress. Many cities in Europe organise activities and events to celebrate this day. In the United Kingdom, since 2013, the city of Glasgow has organised an annual parade where Roma and non Roma people march together against racism and prejudice, celebrating cultural diversity.

 9 – Oral History

The Romani language is mainly oral, with little written tradition. For centuries, Roma culture and traditions were transmitted orally, through creative resources such as tales, fables and folk songs. Initially, the literature produced by Roma was defined as oral literature. During the 20th century, Roma authors from different countries began writing their literature in different languages and dialects, using different writing systems.

10- Famous Roma

Although Roma have little representation in the media, there have been and there are many famous people with Roma heritage, such as Elvis Presley, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine, Pablo Picasso, Shayne Ward, and the Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitscheck.

         I am Roma and I am not as you think

“Ten things I would like people know about me." In conversation with Marcela Adamova, founder of the organisation Friends of Romano Lav, that develops integration projects and combats discrimination against Roma communities in Glasgow, Scotland.

I am a human being and I am also Roma woman. I live in the village, in the house that was built by my father.  Because my skin is white and my eyes are blue, many people say that I do not look like Roma. But how should a Roma person look like?

As a child, I was lucky and did not have any serious issues because of my ethnical background but many Roma were not that lucky. There are serious problems that many Roma people face because of the inequalities and discrimination that we suffer.

I like the Roma music from my region. It is very different from the music of the Spanish Roma. The Roma are a heterogeneous group so we cannot speak about one Roma culture.

I am proud of the famous Roma people such as Elvis Presley, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine as well as of many others. There are many famous people with Roma background or ancestors but the media don’t mention positive things about Roma. In addition, there are different characters among Roma, same as in the other groups or nationalities.

Being Roma is not a crime so it should not be perceived as some kind of disadvantage. People tend to create stereotypes about the Roma people without knowing them at all. Please have a look above. Am I that different from you?”


Roma contributors who helped build this guide


Ionut Cioarta is Romanian, he is a postgraduate in Sociology and Social Work from Bucharest University and was a student in the Rome Graduate Preparation Program (RGPP) at Central European University. He has been involved in Roma activism for more than five years. For three years he worked in one of the most important Roma organizations in Romania, Romani CRISS (Roma Centre for Social Intervention and Studies). He was a trainee at a civic education centre in Germany and also worked as a mentor in one organization dedicated to people at risk in Edinburgh, Scotland. He currently works in an organization in Canterbury, England

Alexandra Anamaria Bahor is Romanian, graduated in Law, Social and Political Sciences with a specialization in Law from Lower Danube Galati University. For years she worked as a volunteer in Romania and Hungary. She is currently a Roma Community Development Worker at an NGO in Liverpool, England. She represents the voice of Roma communities and works in collaboration with other organisations to find the best solution for the integration of these communities.

Marcela Adamova is Slovakian, graduated in Community Development from the University of Glasgow. She is one of the founders of the NGO Friends of Romano Lav, a community development organization working with Roma communities, especially young people, in Glasgow Scotland. She is currently finishing a Master in Public Administration at the School of Public Policy at Central European University and is Senior Consultant at Friends of Romano Lav.

Orsolya Orsos is Hungarian, she has a Master degree in Social Policies and recently completed a second Master in Public Policy at Central European University. In her studies she explored the different forms of inequalities in the education of Roma children in post-socialist societies. For 7 years she worked in the area of inclusion of Roma communities in different European countries. Currently, she is a Project Manager at the NGO BHA for Equality in Manchester, where she oversees 3 projects with the aim of improving the social inclusion of communities of Roma immigrants.

Friends of Romano Lav is an NGO working with Roma communities to challenge the racism, discrimination and disadvantage experienced by Roma migrant communities in Glasgow. The main focus of the organisation is to build capacities within the young Roma generation through different community development activities. You can find out more about them on facebook, or by contacting them at  romano_lav@hotmail.co.uk 

Alexandre De Maio (Brazil)  Contact: alexandredemaio@gmail.com   

Juliana da Penha (Brazil/Scotland) Contact: Juliana.penha.br@gmail.com


To learn more about Roma populations in Europe, check out these links:












Maya Acharya