- Hanifa Hokic, left, and Mihaela Miclescu at a food stand run by the Gipsy Queens during a music festival in Rome.
- From left: Codruca Balteanu, Florentina Darmas and Maria Miglescu prepare traditional Roma meals for the Gipsy Queens food stand, at the Astra 19 social center in Rome.
- Florentina Darmas prepares sarmale, a Roma delicacy of cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and ground meat, for the Gipsy Queens food stand, at the Astra 19 social center in Rome.
What do you do when no one wants to hire you? After facing stigma for living in a rat-infested camp, an enterprising group of Roma women in Italy have cooked up a plan to hire themselves. In food stands around Rome, the Gipsy Queens peddle homemade Balkan specialties like cabbage wraps and stuffed peppers to hundreds of hungry people. “We realized there was unexpressed potential in the community, especially on the part of women,” said Mariangela De Blasi, a social worker who manages the catering business. Cooking comes easy for many of the women, who grew up in predominantly patriarchal societies where they were expected to follow traditional roles as mothers, wives, and caregivers. In fact, although the catering business is blooming, many Roma men and older Roma women feel that the Gipsy Queens shouldn’t be working so much outside the home. “That’s why we’re taking this slowly,” said De Blasi. As they try not to spark too many “culture shocks,” the Gipsy Queens must also wrestle with the prejudice against Roma people that saturates Italian society. “People speculated on whether they cooked rats, or went food shopping in garbage cans,” said De Blasi. With knowledge of what they face, and what they want to escape, the Gipsy Queens are determined to leave their camp and lead better lives. “Getting out is my first priority,” said Hanifa Hokic, 31, who sees the business as a step towards a brighter future. “We’re determined to go forward.” The oldest member of the group, Mihaela Miclescu, 49, said “I wanted to show Italians that we are not bad people, that we want to work, not to beg.” With business booming, they’re certainly achieving that.
Read the full story at The New York Times.