This film be take an emic perspective that seeks to shed light on how the culture of the Traveler Gypsies of Great Britain (also referred to inappropriately as Rom and far more accurately as Romnichal) who have settled in America for at least three generations impacts their celebration of Thanksgiving. One of the most important concepts that needs to be established right from the beginning of this film is that the Romnichal Gypsies of North America who trace their lineage back to Great Britain (primarily, as in my case, Wales) are a distinctly different culture from the Rom and Romany Gypsies of Eastern Europe.
This conceptualization of the understanding that the term “Gypsy” carries with a far more specific culture connotation than its present appropriate by anyone of any culture who views themselves as “nomadic” while at the same is a more broad term that accurately describes cultures from each other as the Sioux were from the Seminole or the Irish from the Scottish. The ethnographic premise of “The Romnichal Thanksgiving” is to create an empathetic portrait of a people who have historically found themselves facing discrimination, prejudice and suspicion simply on account of being a member of ethnic subgroup to which they belong. The film will attempt to create such empathy by providing background information using archival film and photos along with at personal narrative accounts of how this culture has faced discrimination both back in Great Britain and across America.
This attempt at building empathy for the Romnichal will then be placed into a realistic context by revealing that many of the reasons for this generation discrimination and prejudice is the fault of the Romnichal themselves. One of the cultural expectations that might be confounded by this film is the one that paints these Gypsies as both criminals and liars. The film will not shy away from the truth about their “criminal behavior” that ranges from slightly shady blacktopping jobs to the more ambiguous criminal endeavor of palmistry, but will also reveal that they are not shy at all about openly admitting to “taking advantages of the Gorgias” who are going to treat them as if they are idle vagrants and low-lifes. An example of the unusual characteristic of honesty among the Romnichal is my own decision to show my cultural heritage, warts and all.
The real reason for focusing on the few days leading up to the celebration of Thanksgiving and how the Romnichal celebrate that holiday itself provides quite possibly the single most outstanding opportunity for the real ethnographic centerpiece of the film: how those Romnichal who are at least a third generation removed from their ancestors’ life in Great Britain have assimilated into the American mainstream.
What is of extreme importance from an emic perspective is that the level of assimilation is not the same even across the same family. The matriarch of the clan that is at the center of this film, for instance, is one generation removed from Great Britain and gave birth to seven children who in turn have so far provided her with 19 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Four of her children will be coming in from out of town to celebrate Thanksgiving, two live in the same city and will be taking part and one son (as well as his children) is estranged from the less assimilated factions of the clan as well as her children. It is worth nothing that this son—my uncle—has agreed to take part in the film because he very strongly feels that much of the family has remained too insular and committed to the “old ways.”
This conflict will, I hope, serve not only as the narrative device that heightens dramatic tension, but (and this is only a faint hope) also as an emotional climax with a reunion between son and mother and brother and sisters who have not spoken to each other in almost five years!