Although European churches have a long history of condemning Gypsies, their magic, and their arranged marriages, most Rom Gypsy Americans are Eastern Orthodox. They celebrate the "pomona" feast for the dead, at which the feasters invite the dead to eat in heaven. Also, preparation for their "slava" feast requires thorough cleaning of the interior of the host's house, its furniture, and its inhabitants, as the host transforms a section of the house into a church.
The feast ceremony begins with coffee for the guests, prayer and a candle for the saints.
Today, around the world, Christian fundamentalist revival movements have been sweeping through Rom, Romnichal, and other groups of Gypsies. Since the mid-1980s, through Assemblies of God, various American groups have formed Gypsy churches. In Fort Worth, Texas, for example, a church integrates traditional Gypsy faith with Christian Pentecostal ritual.
Gypsies have tended to syncretize or blend their ethnic Gypsy folk religion with more established religions, such as Christianity. Gypsy religious beliefs are mostly unrelated to the business of fortune-telling. Silverman pointed out that while Gypsies may disbelieve Gypsy "magic," and "often joke about how gullible non-Gypsies are," in some ways, others act as believers; fortune-tellers generally treat their reading room as sacred and may "consult elder Gypsy women who are known to be experts in dream interpretation, card reading, and folk healing." Gypsies use code-names to mention certain evil-spirits to other Gypsies; and Gypsies sometimes cast curses on other Gypsies (or ward them off). Also, stated Silverman, Gypsy fortune-tellers use diverse religious iconography to create impressions out of a belief "that good luck and power can come from the symbols of any religion."
Gypsy Americans have found customers for their business enterprises among some of the other poor members of society, usually other ethnic minorities such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans as well as immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. Mobility and adaptation are foremost in the Gypsy trades. Their occupations have catered to other groups, and at the same time maintained Gyspies' separation. In their essay in "Urban Gypsies," Matt and Shelia Salo explain that "the main features of all occupations were that they were independent pursuits, required little overhead, had a ubiquitous clientele, and could be pursued while traveling" in urban and rural areas. And, Gypsies adapted to different locales and periods. Silverman discusses "a change in occupations in 20th century America that parallels the urbanization of the Rom.
After their arrival in the 1880s, the Rom followed nomadic European trades such as coppersmithing, refining, and dealing in horses for the men, and begging or fortune-telling for the women. They would camp in the country and interact mostly with the rural population, venturing into the cities only to sell their services and purchase necessities. As the automobile supplanted horse travel, the Rom became used-car dealers and repairmen, occupations that they still pursue. When metalworking skills became less important, Gypsies learned new trades, including the selling of items such as watches and jewelry."
As Sutherland points out in "Gypsies, Tinkers and Other Travelers," "In the 'krumpania' men and women cooperate with each other in exploiting the economic resources of their area." The Rom preferred to work in groups or as partners, and these groups were always of the same sex, although women often took along children of either sex. The adults work as equals and divide expenses and profits equally. As a token of respect for the elders, an extra amount could be given to them, but unmarried trainees receive only what others prefer to give them. As a rule, Gypsies profit from non-Gypsies only - they do not earn wages from each other.
Gypsies were often horse traders. According to Matt and Sheila Salo, "During World War I, Gypsies brought teams of their horses to the Great Plains to help harvest crops. For a while at least, the label 'horse trader' or 'horse dealer' seemed almost synonymous with 'Gypsy.'
The colorful wagons used by Ronmichals to advertise their presence to any community they entered further reinforced this identification by the professionally painted side panels depicting idealized horses and the horse trading life. The pride of Romnichals in their ability to trade horses is reflected in the carved figures of horses on the tombstones of horse dealers." After the horse trade's heyday, the Gypsies tend to sell cars.
Other occupations include driveway blacktopping, house painting, and tinsmithing. Gypsy tinkers were essential to various industries such as confectioneries, because they retinned large mixing bowls and other machinery on site. Then by the 1930s the Rom Gypsies controlled the business of fortune-telling. Again, according to the Salo's, "Gypsy mysticism, as represented in fortune-teller costumes and props such as the crystal ball and tarot deck, have impacted on American culture directly, and through their media representations and imitations, such as the likes of commercially produced Ouija boards, Gypsies have maintained a presence and influence in America's quasi-religious, commercially mystical functions.
"Special attention from American authorities has seldom benefited Gypsies. Some states and districts maintain policies and statues that prohibit fortune-tellers, require them to pay hundreds of dollars for annual licenses, or otherwise control activities in which Gypsies engage. Despite the unconstitutionally of such measures, some rules apply specifically to Gypsies by name. One excuse for this discrimination is the confusion between ethnic Gypsies and vagrants. Gypsy parents skeptical of non-Gypsy schooling have run afoul of truant officers. After a long history of avoidance of local authorities, Gypsies in the United States and elsewhere are becoming more politically active in defense of their civil and human rights; an international organization of Roma people has been recognized by the United Nations."
Sources: Gypsy Americans History, Immigration waves to the United States, Settlement Patterns; Morrison County Historical Society