Photos of a Romani family, 1968-1970
Maxwell Street area, Chicago
As a student of cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, from1967 to 1970 (when I was 17-20), I became deeply interested in the Romani, or Gypsy, people. I was happy to discover that an extended family of Roma lived in my hometown, Chicago, near Maxwell Street, a boisterous multicultural market street where peddlers sold everything from ladies' stockings to home appliances.
On weekends and holidays when I was home on Chicago's South Side, I took my camera and went to visit a Romani family I'd gotten to know -- first through the fortune teller who sat on a chair outside the apartment. After I returned several times to talk to them, they invited me up to their apartment over the storefront.
Somehow they let me hang around-- that time and the next and the next, over the next couple of years. The large extended family lived in a sprawling second-story apartment decorated with brightly patterned curtains, drapes and bedspreads in the same fabrics as some of the women's long skirts. I'd sit with the women and children, observing people coming and going, listening to animated discussions (about food, cars, clients, relatives) that alternated between English and Romanes, the Gypsy language. I sometimes ate stuffed cabbage rolls with them and one year they invited me to an Easter dinner at their home. To justify my presence, I took photographs of the family and brought them prints (In one of the photos on the slide show above, you can see some family members in the background looking at the prints.)
This connection was the start of a lifelong interest that led me to co-found, with Dr. Ian Hancock, the Romani-Jewish Alliance, and to meet and interview Romani Holocaust survivors in the United States and Europe for my book Shared Sorrows: A Gypsy Family Remembers the Holocaust.
In September, 2001, I donated the photographs and negatives of this Romani family to the Maxwell Street Foundation