Complexities of U. S. Law
and Gypsy Identity
Fundamental differences between sedentary societies and nomadic societies frequently lead to conflicts. Such conflicts stem from the interests vested in the basic social and legal forms of societies organized around individuals being in a fixed place and the interests of societies organized around the flexibility of being able to move from place to place. In sedentary societies (which developed historically with agriculture), each person has an official and personal identity linked to a fixed abode (an address), a name (a legal name), and often documents of proof of identity (birth certificate, identity card, driver'S license, passport, etc.). In nomadic societies, individuals do not have a fixed abode, but work and live within a broad territory; they may have several names or identities suitable for each location within which they work; and their official or true identity is based on that which is fixed in their lives, membership in a broad kin group within which they are born or married. Their relationship with the state is therefore often problematic, and government officials frequently view nomadic peoples as a threat to the state. People who are not easily located are hard to control.
The global history of the relationships between emerging states and nomadic peoples (for example, Indians in the United States, Bedouins in Arabia, or Maasi in Kenya) is commonly a history of discrimination, persecution, violence, forced assimilation, or containment in reservations. The Gypsies are a nomadic group with such a history. Persecuted with various degrees of harshness throughout the last millennium during their movement west from northern India, they have been vilified, subject to laws targeting their nomadic ways, forcibly evicted from towns (England, France, United States), expelled en masse from the state (present-day Germany), enslaved (Romania), imprisoned and exterminated (Hitler'S Germany), and forced to settle (Communist Russia and Eastern Bloc). Some Gypsy groups have stayed in one place (the Spanish Kale and Romanian Gypsies being prominent ex-