Representatives of Romani in New Zealand want Kiwi businesses to stop using the word gypsy in their names and branding.

The recent saga of the British tourists has reinvigorated efforts to eradicate the word, with representatives of New Zealand Romani approaching businesses, declaring it "racist... like hori, Injun, negro or the N word".

The tourists - who left a pile of rubbish on Takapuna Beach and outraged business owners and hospitality workers across the North Island - complained of being called "gypsy scum" by the public. Auckland mayor Phil Goff joined the name-calling by labelling the travellers as "assholes" and "pigs".

Auckland academic and author Cliff Harvey believes the use of the word 'gypsy' by businesses is offensive
Auckland academic and author Cliff Harvey believes the use of the word 'gypsy' by businesses is offensive

Auckland academic and author Cliff Harvey, who runs a group for people of Romani descent in New Zealand says making commercial gain out of the word "gypsy" is improper cultural appropriation of a Romani lifestyle. Together with Romani elder Robert Kamulo Lovell and Romani activist Frances Roberts-Reilly, Harvey has embarked on a campaign to lobby the government to ban businesses from misappropriating the word for profit.

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This move follows Romani people's recent success in lobbying Facebook to ban New Zealanders to from using the word "gypsy" on a page, dubbed "Gypsy Scammers in NZ" - made up of nearly 5000 members, set up by Bay of Plenty woman Maxine Paterson to track the alleged unruly British tourists.

Some tourists talking to Police and Immigration officers in Hamilton during the January 'saga' of the British tourists Photo/file
Some tourists talking to Police and Immigration officers in Hamilton during the January 'saga' of the British tourists Photo/file

From Stevie Nicks' hit song Gypsy, to the Gypsy Kings and Gypsy Rose Lee, the term 'gypsy' has been used in popular culture for years.

But increasingly Harvey said the word has gained commerical currency, being used used inbrand-names, products, and by businesses as a marketing ploy.

"The lure of a perceived Bohemian lifestyle has falsely romanticised the word...with the word 'gypsy' used to cover a mish-mash of new-age concepts…that's why you see dream-catchers, crystals, floaty dresses and many other things labelled as 'gypsy'."

This appropriation is "racist and offensive" says Robert Lovell, a New Zealand Rom elder, activist and representative of the estimated 3000 Romani people in New Zealand.

"I am personally horrified, very much saddened and damn angry when I see such things.

"Over a century of cultural appropriation continues. Our ancestors did not endure through hundreds of years of horrendous history to be dishonoured and disrespected for commercial gain. Stop it."

Harvey says Romani people were persecuted for their customs, dress, or language and to see those things "poorly imitated now by new-agers and modern-day hippie types" is "clearly a case of racial appropriation...with typically no consideration for the plight of Romani throughout history, nor for the continued oppression they receive".

Harvey says there is a backlash against caricaturising other ethnicities - citing how the term 'blackface' now is rightly unthinkable, but similar caricaturisation of Romani in a 'gypsy fair', or a 'gypsy caravan', or 'gypsy-style' is deemed acceptable and it should not be.

"It is almost identical to calling oneself an 'Indian' because you like dream catchers and wearing a feathered head-dress… or even worse, calling that lifestyle 'Injun-style'."

Spurred by "antizyganist talk" as a result of the British tourist debacle, Romani representatives are working on petitions and submissions to government bodies.

Romani representatives have already sent a request to Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment Kris Faafoi demanding a legal review to remove the term "gypsy" from all registered business names in New Zealand.

Romani representatives have approached Minister Kris Faafoi with a demand to insist New Zealand businesses do not use the word gypsy in their name
Romani representatives have approached Minister Kris Faafoi with a demand to insist New Zealand businesses do not use the word gypsy in their name

A New Zealand Companies Register search reveals 62 business using a registered company name including the word 'gypsy'.

Yet Harvey says there are many more products, brand, and trading names using the term which Harvey says is not only racist and offensive, but he believes it is illegal.

"The use of 'Gypsy' and particularly the way it is done - using stereotypes and fetishism- is at odds with some aspects of New Zealand law. Especially Fair Trading, Advertising Standards, and the Companies Office requirements for business and trademarks to not use offensive terms. We are currently working on submissions to the respective Government bodies for these."

Frances Reilly says the group is still awaiting a response from Minister Faafoi, who they had been referred to last year by Jenny Salesa, Minister of Ethnic Communities as she herself told them she had " a large file...and limited time to work on Romani/Gypsy issues."

It is not the first time Romani has protested the use of the word gypsy in New Zealand businesses.

For two years Romani elder Lovell has been wanting the owner of the Original Gypsy Fair, which travels around New Zealand, to stop using the term 'gypsy', but says he was told to "bugger off" by the fair's owner Jim Banks.

Speaking to NZME this week, Jim Banks, owner of Original Gypsy Fair said he did receive a letter from the Romani representative Lovell, a couple of years ago, but he threw it in the trash.

Banks said he couldn't remember whether he told Lovell to bugger off at the time, but wasn't worried by the latest Romani protest over business names as his business was "legally registered by the New Zealand government".

Jim Banks owner of the Original Gypsy Fair, with pony Ruby. Photo/File
Jim Banks owner of the Original Gypsy Fair, with pony Ruby. Photo/File

"He can go to hell, he has no right to tell me what I call my business, I have a trademark from the New Zealand government.

"There's lots of businesses across the country with the name gypsy - coffee shops, beauty shops, you name it. What is he going to do? Shut them all down?

"They are dreamers. It's a bloody racket... they do not own the word, they are not a group or a race like New Zealanders or Filipinos, they might as well be a motorbike gang."

Banks says he has owned the fair for almost 30 years with his Filipino wife, Venus.

He says his parents were 'full blooded" English gypsies with a horse-drawn carriage.

"Gypsy is a lifestyle, not a breed... if I want to say gypsy, call my business gypsy, I have every right to."

Brett Simeti owner of the popular Ponsonby hangout Gypsy Tearooms was surprised to hear there could be any negative association with the name of his venue. He said it sounded like the Romani people were "making a mountain out of a molehill. It's a non issue".

The Gypsy Tearoom in Grey Lynn. Photo/File.
The Gypsy Tearoom in Grey Lynn. Photo/File.

Simeti said he purchased the business with the existing name but liked it.

"It has positive connotations - of course it's a positive word because people want positive words association with their business. People are delighted by the concept of "gypsy", and intrigued by the name Gypsy Tearooms.

"It's hip. Of course any moniker can be used offensively but this is a positive name. What about the Gypsy Kings? Lots of people like their music and so do I."

Simeti said he had never received any complaints from the Romani community and he thought a couple of his regular patrons were Romani people.

Chloe Garrett, co-owner of Neon Gypsy clothing store in Mount Maunganui and Ponsonby said she did not wish to add "fuel to the fire" by making a comment but she welcomed Romani contacting her directly if they wished.

Carole and Chloe, mother and daughter owners of fashion business Neon Gypsy which has stores in Ponsonby and Auckland. Photo/File
Carole and Chloe, mother and daughter owners of fashion business Neon Gypsy which has stores in Ponsonby and Auckland. Photo/File

Mikala Stanton-Hough from Mount Maunganui is owner of Glitter Gypsy, which offers clothing and accessories for festival-goers as well as hair-braiding.

She felt the definition of gypsy was simply a nomadic or free-spirited person. "We would never in any circumstance want to have a negative connotation.

"We are a good-hearted brand with the best of intentions so it's all come as a surprise to us that some find it offensive.

"We want to spread positivity.

"We offer biodegradable glitter and unique clothing with a music focus, so we are very festival inspired."

Mikala Stanton-Hough from Glitter Gypsy which has stalls at music festivals offering wares and services. Photo / Andrew Warner
Mikala Stanton-Hough from Glitter Gypsy which has stalls at music festivals offering wares and services. Photo / Andrew Warner

Cliff Harvey said the Romani team has already have been "gently" reaching out to businesses on social media to let them know that their products or businesses may be offensive. It was not about naming and shaming because Romani understand people were genuinely not aware of the issues

"Some businesses have been very receptive - in some cases shocked - and have changed their branding and names. As people become aware, we hope attitudes will shift, just as they have for Negro, Injun, Hori."

He said up to 12 businesses he had contacted were considering his request, and already one Auckland beauty therapist Romy Burgess, founder of The Beauty Elixir willingly changed her brand and instagram handle.

In other cases, the plea has fallen on deaf ears, with accusations of "PC gone mad."

Harvey says this is ignoring the issues of racial appropriation of the word gypsy.

"The 'PC' label is often used to justify continuing to be an asshole!"