I was a pale Roma baby – it’s always been a family joke that I was stolen

The joke doesn’t seem so funny now – the case of blonde child Maria has exposed widespread prejudice about Romany people

Filip Borev
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013

Sashka Ruseva and son Atanas

Sasha Ruseva and her son Atanas, outside her house in the town of Nikolaevo, Bulgaria. Since this article was written, Ruseva has been established as the biological mother of the blonde girl Maria, found living with an unrelated Roma couple in Greece. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

If we were to make a list of reasons as to why a child should be taken into care, “being blond” would probably not make the cut. This week, however, two Roma children in Athlone and Dublin were snatched from their families for exactly that reason. In the wake of the discovery of the “blonde angel” Maria, in a Roma neighbourhood in Greece, a witch-hunt has begun. The Roma are now considered child abductors until proven innocent, with police and social services ready to pounce on any Roma parents who dare to produce a blond child. The Dublin child has already been proved by DNA to belong to her parents.

Don’t get me wrong, blond hair is somewhat a rarity among Roma populations. What is rarer, however, is the “pure blood” or tatcho Romany. Indeed, there is nothing more the Romany like to do than fight among themselves over who is the purest Gypsy, but one only needs to take a glance at Britain’s Romany community to realise there has undoubtedly been a great deal of intermarriage. My genes would best be described as a melting pot – my mother is part Bulgarian Roma, part Romanichal (English Romany), and my dad is part Romanichal, part Irish Traveller – thus, it was hardly surprising when I was born a blue-eyed milk bottle.

The notion of the baby-snatching Gypsy is an old racist stereotype. Since I was born it has been a running joke within my family that I was stolen. My mum’s engagement to a Roma man resulted in three considerably darker-skinned siblings. Among my Roma family I couldn’t have stood out more, but lucky for me I can now hand down the “stolen baby” joke to my younger brother who was born with strikingly blond hair. In the current environment, however, I must ask just how funny this joke is. The implicit, and racist, message to emerge from this case is that blond hair belongs to the purer white race. While the case of little Maria in Greece seems distant, Ireland is just next door. Could my mum and stepdad be the next Roma parents to receive a knock at the door? Will my brother be the next blond Roma child to be carted off for DNA testing?

(Read the rest of the article on the Guardian’s website: