Silverman, Carol. Bronx African American History Project. By Oneka LaBennett. Fordham University Project, September, 2009.
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Oneka LaBennett
INTERVIEWEE: Carol Silverman
SUMMARY BY: Andrew O’Connell
Keywords: Roma, Gypsies, Northeast Bronx, Balkan Muslims in the Bronx, The Balkans
Carol Silverman, an anthropologist born and raised in the Northeast Bronx, sits with Dr. Oneka LaBennett in this interview to talk about her childhood, her witnessing of the community’s deterioration in the 1970s and her fieldwork as an anthropologist with Romani people in the Bronx.
Born on March 30, 1951 on Intervale Avenue in the Northeast Bronx, Silverman spent the first twenty some odd years of her life living in the borough. Silverman describes the area she grew up as secure as comprised of close-knit, yet not racially prejudiced, ethnic groups. Talking about the primarily Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhood, Silverman claims that neither she nor her parents ever locked their door, and that she never even met a White Anglo Saxon Protestant until she moved to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.
During her time in graduate school at Penn, Silverman began to notice to the decay and deterioration of the Bronx when she would return home for visits. She began to notice that people in the street would carry guns, the overwhelming presence of drugs, the conspicuous amounts of garbage and the overall sense of disrepair. Comparing her neighborhood in the 1970s to what it was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Silverman talks about the little things, like the subway no longer being considered safe for her to ride alone.
Silverman also talks about an increased racial tension in her old neighborhood during the 1970s that had not been present during her younger days. She noticed an increased racial hatred toward African Americans from groups that had lived in the neighborhood during her childhood.
While at UPenn completing her graduate work, Silverman became interested in the Roma people, a group of Balkan Muslims more commonly known as gypsies, and their roles in America. Silverman had studied Romani peoples in Brooklyn and other New York City communities, but it was not until 1988 that she discovered an overwhelming presence of the people in her native borough. Silverman began to work closely with these groups, most notably in the Belmont community directly outside Fordham’s gates. She became so close with the community that several members arranged for her to travel to Macedonia to stay with some of their relatives.
While her original worked focused mainly on cultural festivals and music of the gypsies, her later work has dealt with the roles of second and third generation immigrants from these lands that have begun adjusting culturally and professionally to life in the United States. She talks about her work interviewing Roma girls that have gone on to become accountants and paralegals, overcoming several common, negative stereotypes that have been held about the Roma people for centuries.