Romani people in the United States
An encampment of Roma people on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, 1905
Total population
est. 1,000,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and Portland as well as in rural areas in Texas and Arkansas
American English, Spanish, Romani, Angloromani, Caló
Christianity, Islam, Romani folklore

Romani Americans (Romani: romani-amerikani) are Americans who have full or partial Romani ancestry. It is estimated that there are one million Romani people in the United States. Though the Romani population in the United States has largely assimilated into American society, the largest concentrations are in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Southwestern United States, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and the Northeast as well as in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and St. Louis.[1][2]

The Romani or Roma are a nomadic ethnic group, often pejoratively referred to as Gypsies, who have been in the Americas since the first Romani people reportedly arrived on Christopher Columbus’ third voyage in 1498.[3][4] The largest wave of Romani immigrants came from the Balkans, Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia region in the late 19th century following the abolition of slavery in Romania in 1864.[5][6] Romani immigration to the United States has continued at a steady rate ever since, with an increase of Romani immigration occurring in the late 20th century following the Porajmos in Nazi Germany and its occupied European territories and then the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.[1]

The size of the Romani American population and the absence of a historical and cultural presence, such as the Romani have in Europe, make Americans largely unaware of the existence of the Romani as a people.[1] The term's lack of significance within the United States prevents many Romani from using the term around non-Romani: identifying themselves by nationality rather than heritage.[7] It seems that the United States lacks the structures and stories for Romani people to own as their heritage, something that would make their identity more visible as an individual group.[8]

There has been an increased consciousness of the existence of Romanies as an American people after the Cold War, but there remains a sense of mythology around the group.[4] An announcement made on New York television station WABC referred to Romani people as 'real live Gypsies', suggesting a question mark on their existence.[7]

Most Romani Americans live in the United States's biggest cities, where the greatest economic opportunities exist. Romani Americans practice many different religions, usually based on the version of Christianity common in their country of origin, but fundamentalist Christian denominations have been growing in popularity among them.[9]

Romani Americans might sell used cars and trailers, fortune telling, black top driveways and do roofing to earn money.[10]

The Roma live in populous cities such as New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Seattle , Las Vegas, Miami,[11]and Portland as well as in rural areas in Texas and Arkansas.[12][13][14]


Romani Americans have served as experts on official delegations to meetings and conferences in the U.S. held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At an OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Roma issues in November 2013, Nathan Mick, who is an American Roma delivered the U.S. delegation's intervention and participated in working sessions on improving respect for the rights of Romani people. Another Amerixan Roma Dr. Ethel Brooks served as a moderator at this same event; she also spoke at the UN Holocaust Commemoration in New York in 2013 in commemora- International Efforts to Promote Roma Rights 79tion of the Romani genocide during World War II. In January 2016, former President Barack Obama named Dr. Ethel Brooks to serve on the Holocaust Memorial Council, making her the only Romani American on the council since President Bill Clinton appointed Ian Hancock in 1997. The State Department's public diplomacy programs have benefited from several Romani American speakers including Hancock who have, over the years, traveled to several European countries with support from U.S. embassies in order to discuss Romani issues and human rights. The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor leads a regular meeting of a Romani working group, which gathers experts on Romani issues based in the Washington, D.C., including Romani Americans, to exchange information and discuss policy priorities for promoting Romani inclusion in Europe.[15]

Voice of Roma was founded by Sani Rifati in 1996, and incorporated as a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization in 1999, in Sebastopol, California.[16]

Schools for young Roma students have been set up in California, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and Camden, New Jersey.[17]

Pennsylvania, Indiana, Georgia and New Jersey, passed discriminatory laws that targeted Romani people.[18]


The Romani people originate from Northern India,[19][20][21][22][23][24] presumably from the northwestern Indian states Rajasthan[23][24] and Punjab.[23]

The linguistic evidence has indisputably shown that roots of Romani language lie in India: the language has grammatical characteristics of Indian languages and shares with them a big part of the basic lexicon, for example, body parts or daily routines.[25]

More exactly, Romani shares the basic lexicon with Hindi and Punjabi. It shares many phonetic features with Marwari, while its grammar is closest to Bengali.[26]

Genetic findings in 2012 suggest the Romani originated in northwestern India and migrated as a group.[20][21][27] According to a genetic study in 2012, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.[28]

In February 2016, during the International Roma Conference, the Indian Minister of External Affairs stated that the people of the Roma community were children of India. The conference ended with a recommendation to the Government of India to recognize the Roma community spread across 30 countries as a part of the Indian diaspora.[29]

Migration to the US

"How War is driving the Gipsies to America", article from newspaper, The Star Press, 1915

The first Roma to come to the United States arrived in Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey and Louisiana during the 1500s.[30] Romani slaves were first shipped to the Americas with Columbus in 1498.[31] Spain sent Romani slaves to their Louisiana colony between 1762 and 1800.[32] An Afro-Romani community exists in St. Martin Parish due to intermarriage of freed African American and Romani slaves.[33] The first Roma to arrive in the United States came from the British Isles. Other Roma later came from the Mediterranean, along with the general shift of immigrants from northern to southern Europe. Among these were Roma, who moved out of Romania and Moldova in the nineteenth century. They travelled through Austria-Hungary, Italy and the Balkans, to arrive in New York in 1881.[34] The Romanichal, the first Romani group to arrive in North America in large numbers, moved to America from Britain around 1850. The Rom were the second subgroup of Roma to immigrate to the United States. They came from Germany and other parts of western Europe. The third was the Ludar. They came from southern European ports beginning in 1882.[35] Iberian Gitanos and Balkan Romani, the ancestors of most of the Romani population in the United States today, began immigrating to the United States on a large scale over the latter half of the 19th century coinciding with the weakening grip of the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman Wars in Europe in the 19th century, which ultimately culminated in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), freeing many ethnic Eastern Europeans from Ottoman dominance and producing new waves of Romani immigrants.[36] Other Roma mainly came from Greece and Italy.[37] England and Scotland had shipped Romani slaves to Virginia.[38] The Kalderash first arrived in the United States in the 1880s. Many of them came from Austria-Hungary, Russia and Serbia, as well as from Italy, Greece, Romania and Turkey. The arrival of the Kalderash, rudari and the other subgroups of Romani at this time more or less wiped out the Roma who had arrived in United States during the colonial period. Their arrival coincided with the large wave of immigration from Eastern Europe.[39] Early Romani immigrants listed such diverse occupations as farmer, laborer, showman, animal trainer, horse trader, musician, and coppersmith, among others, to census takers. In the 19th century, Romani American men tended to pursue nomadic European occupations, while Romani American women often practiced fortune telling.[40]

That wave of Romani immigration comprised Romani-speaking peoples like the Kalderash, Machvaya, Lovari and Churari, and ethnically Romani groups that had integrated more within the Central and Eastern European societies, such as the Boyash (Ludari) of Romania and the Bashalde of Slovakia.[41]

Many of the Vlach Romani headed for the United States took an indirect means of traveling to America; this involved traveling by ship to countries such as Mexico, or arrive at Canada to retry entry or cross the border.[42] This was due to the fact that, at the time, U.S. legislation prevented entry to "Gypsies", making it problematic for those who were perceived to be easily identifiable as Romani by their appearance.[42]

In 1999, the United States pledged to take up to 20,000 Kosovan refugees, many of them were Roma.[43]

Distribution of Romani language in the United States according to the 2000 census

By the 2000s, there has been some acknowledgement of the growing presence of Romani peoples within America as the Census forms of 2000 were disseminated for the first time in Romani language, furthermore, as of 2010, five sessions in Congress have been held to address the growing increase of Romani asylum seekers to the US, due to the anti-Romani sentiment of Europe.[44]

The new wave of Romani people such as the Romungre from Hungary and the Catani from Romania to be concentrated in New York and Chicago.[45]

Many Romani people also came from Cuba, Canada, Mexico or South America, from where it was easier to immigrate to the United States.[46]


Romani Americans eat sarma (stuffed cabbage), gushvada (cheese strudel), and a ritually sacrificed animal (often a lamb).[47]

A dish eaten for feasts and everyday use by American Roma is pirogo.[48]

There have been reality shows about Romani Americans such as American Gypsies and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding on TLC,[49] although many have pointed out negative stereotyping[50] and actors like Priscilla Lee Kelly have come forward to say that much of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding was faked.[51][unreliable source]


Romani Americans are concentrated in large cities such Chicago and Los Angeles and states such as New York, Virginia, Illinois, Texas and Massachusetts.[52]

Romani Americans live mainly in major urban areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and Portland. Romani Americans today still migrate across the United States from the Midwest to Nevada, California, Texas, and elsewhere to live close to family and friends or for jobs. Some of the Roma who had once lived in Delay and then in the Dearborn area in Michigan moved to Las Vegas Valley to work or retire.[53]

There is Vlax and Romanichal churches in large cities in the Southern United States such as Atlanta and Houston.[54]

The Roma have lived and travelled throughout the state of New York.[55]

Romani people are concentrated in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast.[56]

The states with the largest Romani population are:[57]

  1. California California – 200,000
  2. Illinois Illinois – 10,000
  3. Florida Florida – 3,000
  4. Texas Texas – 20,000
  5. Oregon Oregon – 3,000
  6. Ohio Ohio – 1,000


The Roma first came to Chicago during the large waves of Southern and Eastern European immigration to the United States in the 1880s until World War I. Two separate Romani subgroups settled in Chicago, the Machwaya and the Kalderash. The Machwaya came from Serbia and parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They settled on the Southeast Side of Chicago.[58]


The Winsted Citizen in an article from 1947 reported that in the late 1800s Romani people visited Connecticut on a routine basis. In Hartford, there was a horse market that was owned by a Romani "King."[59]


Numerous Romani individuals who have relocated to Northern Kentucky, whether temporarily or permanently, have conformed to the stereotype associated with the Gypsy community.[60]


There are about 20,000 Roma in Texas. In Texas, the two main Roma populations are Vlax and Romanichal. Romani Americans are concentrated in Houston and Fort Worth. Significant numbers of Romani families also live in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso. Nearly every large town in Texas has some Roma residents.[61]


One of the most well-documented colonial Romani North American migrations involved many French Roma who helped build the French colony of Louisiana. The French Roma settled throughout Biloxi, New Orleans, Natchez to Natchitoches.[62]


Romani people moved to rural areas in Nebraska in the 1930s. The Roma were known as shrewd horse traders.[63]

New Jersey

The Roma are concentrated in the northeastern part of New Jersey, especially in the Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth area.[64]

New York City

Many Romani moved to New York City from other parts of the United States after relief programs were put into effect in the 1930s. Romanies from Hungary went to New York after the revolution in 1956. The Roma settled in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Newark, New Jersey.[65]

North Dakota

Gypsy caravans journeyed through North Dakota's territory since the 1880s and continued annually up until the 1940s.[66]


The highest concentration of Roma in Maryland was in Baltimore in the 20th century but encampments were reported across the state.[67]


There is a Romanichal community in Arkansas. They trace their lineage to England and Ireland.[68]


Approximately 200,000 Roma live in California and 50,000 live in Los Angeles.[69]


There is a Hungarian-Slovak Romani community in Michigan.[70]


Romani have resided in Oregon since the early twentieth century. There is a Romani community in Portland.[71]


The Roma have been present in the state since the mid-1800s,[72]

West Virginia

A group of Roma settled in Stumpy Bottom in Princeton.[73]


The Roma began began settling on Cleveland's near west side in the 1880s.[74]


Most of the Roma who came to Utah were of Balkan, Eastern, and Central European origin. They settled in Deseret, Elsinore, Oak City, Kanab, and other rural communities in Utah since the early 1900s.[75]


The Appalachian Mountains in Virginia provided a home for traveling Romani people during first half of the 20th century.[76]


Notable Romani Americans

For a more comprehensive list, see List of Romani Americans.

See also


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Further reading