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Story Publication logo September 17, 2016

The Roma: Breaking Cultural Barriers Through Cooking


Image by Holly Gambrell. Italy, 2016.

This investigation into the lifestyles, struggles and cultures of the Roma people living in Rome...

houses in Candoni
Many houses in Candoni are small and overpopulated. Image by Marco Birrozzie. Italy, 2016.

While the United States has seen waves of feminism throughout its history, a patriarchal society still prospers on the outskirts of Rome, Italy, in a Roma camp called Candoni.

The Roma ethnic group first entered Italy in 1400, and today they continue to face discrimination throughout Italy and Europe.

This discrimination is mainly seen through the slum-like governmental housing settlements that cause the Roma to live in poverty with few academic opportunities or access to substantial healthcare.

But five Roma women living in Candoni have decided to challenge their societal expectations and try to make the best out of the cards they have been dealt.

Their plan: To create a cooking business called the Gipsy Queens to cater different events around Rome, all in the hopes of creating cultural connections between the Roma and Italians to beat the prejudices both groups face.

Yet, by traditional Roma standards, women are expected to stay at home to raise children, cook and take care of chores around the house.

"At first the community around us was not so happy," said Maria Miclescu, a 21-year-old Gipsy Queen. "They were making jokes like 'oh so women work?' because basically here the men work."

The main concerns from their community involved money and a sense of their own culture. The other Roma did not want the Gipsy Queens to lose a sense of their heritage and principles.

"Money-wise we didn't gain too much through the project because we were doing it only two times a week," Miclescu said speaking about how the Gipsy Queens got their start. "It wasn't worth it to them in that sense because here everything is money to them. It's about how much money you bring back home."

Florentina Darmas, another member of the Gipsy Queens, and Miclescu both have husbands who said they didn't want them to be a part of the business, especially because it meant leaving the Candoni perimeters.

"We wanted to go outside though; we wanted to be able to make relations and connections," said Miclescu.

Darmas and Miclescu eventually convinced their husbands to allow them to participate by explaining that if they didn't go out and make connections outside of Candoni they would never be able to find jobs and bring money home to their families.

Few Roma find work outside the settlements, making it more difficult to increase income and improve life conditions.

"On their applications they must provide their home address at the camp," said Carlo Stasolla, president of the human rights advocacy group Associazione 21 luglio. "When they introduce themselves with this application the boss knows that they come from that camp." This can cause discrimination against the Roma, as some business owners in Rome do not wish to hire a Roma as an employee.

"Another thing they [other Roma] told us was that Italians were going to trick us outside of the camp," said Miclescu.

Attitudes began to change after the Gipsy Queens organized their first event, "One Night in Candoni." "We made a party inside the camp where we had the chance to prepare, cook and exchange knowledge of different thinking, of different ways, all inside the camp," said Miclescu.

Both Roma and Italian musicians played as the Gipsy Queens cooked for Candoni residents and Italian guests.

The advocacy group Arci Solidarietà Onlus helped manage the event. They created the invites and fliers advertising the occasion to inform Italians, especially those working for social advocacy and human rights groups, about the Gipsy Queens.

"Everyone was enjoying it and that was basically the start of everything," said Miclescu. "We understood the importance of that thing that we did."



teal halftone illustration of a family carrying luggage and walking


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