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— On a cool day last summer, Patrick Costello, the first person in his family to go to college, took his grandfather, Michael Marks, to an opening ceremony for freshmen at Wichita State University. To get here, his grandson had faced not only the expected challenges of first-generation college students but also the currents of a culture that has historically avoided formal education. Many families home-school their children or pull them out of public schools before they enter high school.
“[The older generation] needed to work to survive, and they made an impact. It’s pretty big for Gypsy people to own something like that. They work with other men in their family, dealing cars or metal.
Women’s role is even more straightforward: They stay at home and raise children. Her long black straight hair, deep eyes with curled lashes and thin figure might appeal to boys in the schools, so her uncle, who looks after her, decided to keep her at home.
That’s easier said than done, two young couples said one evening during dinner.
“That was their deal,” said Teddy Marks, a grandson of Michael Marks. Now they want us to work.” In Roma culture, they said, boys get married at 16 or 17 because that’s what they think is expected of them; that’s how they become men.
When he started college, his cousins were supportive.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t help sensing reservation on their part.
“They didn’t understand why I wanted to go,” he said.
In addition to its traditional lifestyle, the community has preserved its culture over the centuries though language and stories.
Many of his cousins were already married, had children and made a living dealing metal and used cars. His reasoning was that youths lack the work ethic of members of his generation, who were forced since very young to work in order to survive.