This was originally posted to my Facebook page this past week; I decided to cross-post it to Medium for those of you who do not use Facebook. It has only been slightly tweaked for formatting purposes.
So. About the frog thing in Portugal.
(Buckle in, friends, you’re in for a wild ride.)
If any of you have ever played Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you will know of the quest dubbed “Curse of the Romani.” This is by far one of my favourite quests in any game ever because it was one where they portrayed my people not perfectly, but closer to accurately than normal, and I loved the levels of snark involved. In fact, I love this quest so much that when I gave an informative speech on anti-Romani racism, I included a video snippet of it (open captioned in English).
In Revelations — following in the footsteps of the predecessor game, Brotherhood — there are groups of Roma scattered around Constantinople (Istanbul) in the year 1511 who serve the same function as the groups of courtesans in Brotherhood — if Ezio (your historical player-character) hires them, they will walk around with you and keep you hidden in plain sight so guards are less likely to attack you. These groups cannot be hired until you complete their quests to unlock this ability. “Curse of the Romani” has Ezio meet the nameless leader, who is, quite frankly, not in the fucking mood for his sarcastic attitude, because “the Byzantines stole half a year’s worth of coin from” them. Ezio, being the justice-seeking Assassin that he is, asks if there’s anything he can do to help. The leader ponders this and replies that maybe he can… “For centuries, my people have been slandered and insulted, labelled witches and warlocks. Well, so be it. We will not run from these lies any more, but embrace them. Encourage these rumours, for it is better to be infamous than ignored.” Her plan is to make everyone who touched the chest of coins mysteriously die “as if cursed by a pagan hex… Perhaps then people will leave us be.”
Long story short, Ezio (who, for the record for those unfamiliar with the franchise, is a gadjo/non-Rom from a noble Italian family with a long history of being involved with the Assassin Brotherhood) tracks the money chest and takes out anyone who’s laid hands on it by use of poison (so it looks like the “Romani curse” made the offenders sick and killed them). The Byzantines came to the exact assumption the Roma leader wanted them to and, it’s safe to assume, they leave the Roma the fuck alone (if only for a little while, because, you know, history, and we’re still being harassed and killed in acts of racism to this day).
As they’re bringing the chest of money back home to the camp and the guards are running for cover at the sight of Roma people out and about, the leader asks Ezio if he’s ever heard the G-word before. You know, Gypsy — the one that’s a racial slur that everybody seems to think is so cute and whimsical. Ezio says that yeah, he’s heard it a lot. She continues, “Did you know that this word was born from the misapprehension that my people are from Egypt?”
Ezio asks her if she finds the term offensive.
Because this is a Ubisoft game and that means a large portion of the audience are those wilfully ignorant gamers who think politics shouldn’t be in games even though politics are front and centre in the majority of their most highly beloved games — cough, cough… Fallout, Dragon Age, Detroit: Become Human… The list runs on for years — the leader chuckles and says she finds it “funny. My people are from eastern Persia [Iran] and beyond. Yet, somehow we have become citizens of a land we have never seen.”
“People are quick to judge,” Ezio comments, “and slow to correct themselves.”
“Psh… People are stupid.”
“Ezio, the simplest answer is always the best.”
Why did I just give you the rundown of a quest in a historical fiction video game from 2011? Because the dialogue tells you, straight-up, that the term “Gypsy” is a misnomer. We’re not from Egypt, but the word was a corruption of “little Egyptian” even though we’re a diaspora from South fucking Asia. And let me reiterate that it’s a damn slur.
Now that that’s out of the way…what on Earth does this have to do with The Frog Thing in Portugal?!
Because of the widespread use of the G-slur, people still believe we’re from Egypt. I’m fairly certain you all know of the biblical Exodus story? The one about Moses asking the Pharaoh to let his people go (cue the Prince of Egypt soundtrack)? If you’ll recall, the second plague G-d sent upon the Egyptians was the mass quantities of frogs:
“This is what the great LORD says: let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials” (Exodus 8:1–4, according to the Plagues of Egypt Wikipedia entry).
(It’s worth noting that the Egyptian goddess of life and fertility was represented by frogs — that was her symbol. So when Pharaoh threw up his hands like “okay fine call off the frogs and I’ll let your people go for real this time” and Moses was like “neat alright thanks” and all the frogs were just scattered around Egypt as corpses… That was a spiritual sucker punch to the gut for Egyptians, seeing symbols of life dead and rotting everywhere they looked.)
And so we come to the Portugal part of The Frog Thing in Portugal. Racist shopkeepers are putting up frog décor to say, in not so many words, that “Gypsy scum are unwelcome here.” As soon as one of us saw this article, my cousins and I flew into a rage… But a confused one. “Did your parents tell you this? Did I miss something? What the fuck is the deal with the frogs? Frogs?! Why in G-d’s name would we be afraid of frogs?”
It didn’t make a lick of damn sense!
Then one cousin commented, “Remember why they call us ‘Gypsies’?” Attached was a ridiculous illustration of an Egyptian parent screaming, holding a blissfully ignorant smiling infant (according to the source, this was meant to be Pharaoh’s daughter holding baby Moses), as dozens of frogs hopped all over their house and the landscape outside their home.
(I think it’s safe to say that this is likely going to become the new family meme, but we’re still furious about it, because this is racism, and my G-d if you could see the horrific Reddit commentary on it all… Never let it be said that anti-Romani sentiment is dead when incalculable amounts of people want to see us “exterminated.”)
“Dude, what the bloody hell are you on about?” you’re asking me.
Well, for one thing, people pull bullshit stunts like this and then turn around and tell me that nobody’s racist against Roma. Hello? Do we live in the same world? Ah, right, of course we do, it’s just that nobody sees this because wanting Roma (and disabled people apparently but that’s another rant altogether) to die by genocide is ~okay!~ That’s ~acceptable!~ (To make it absolutely clear: no it fucking is not. Please note the use of snark marks.)
But also… It’s incredible to me how much misinformation there is about us. The racist shopkeepers in Portugal…think we’re terrified to death…of frogs? And so they use cute ceramic garden frogs…to keep us out…of their stores? So we won’t steal?
Do they think that we’ll be struck by genetic memories we don’t have and be filled with dread because of the dead frogs in Egypt?
And mind you, the Plagues notion is just a guess at why they’re doing this. We’re all baffled as shit about the whole situation.
Racism is fucking bonkers. By which I mean illogical and nonsensical. I don’t know where people come up with the absolute horsecrap they do, but somehow they manage.
So I guess this two-page, 1,400-something-word story will conclude with a half-joking call to arms: Romale, familija, who’s ready to travel to Portugal to steal some froggy garden décor?