When I say that I have my own culture and lifestyle what do I mean?
If I ask you to explain your culture to me you would find it a very hard thing to do yet people are always asking me and other Travellers to explain Traveller culture. Really my culture is everything about me, how I think, how I act, how I make decisions and everything that is important to me. Travellers are an ethnic group. If we talk about Ethnic identity it means we have a common history, language, religion etc. The other thing that makes us ethnic is you cannot become one of us. You must be born a Traveller; you can’t get a caravan, go on the road and be a Traveller.
If you work with people in an ethnic group make sure you see value in their life rather than putting them down. It is only in the last number of years that people started to work with Travellers and see them with an identity of their own.
When you take away their identity as has happened to many Travellers it causes unbelievable problems. This happened in the 60’s and caused very low self-esteem with Travellers. Many have a fierce inferiority complex which has only been tackled in the last few years. It’s great to see the difference in young people now. They are proud to be Travellers and they want to keep their language whereas a couple of years ago they were hiding the fact that they were Travellers, trying to fit in. If you were in a shop and other Travellers came in you’d ignore them, not look them in the eye because they were letting the side down because they didn’t dress to fit in. So Travellers sometimes became ashamed of their identity. That shame came about because for years we were told to give up our traditions and ways. A lot of them are gone forever. An identity is so important that to take it away does untold damage. How could you imagine not being yourself or having to deny that your grandparents ever existed because they were Travellers and you no longer wanted to be a Traveller? We were expected to assimilate. What helps us not to assimilate are the two most important parts of our culture as I see them, our Nomadism and our family.