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Q&A With Bobby Johns

Bobby Johns

Bobby Johns (View larger version)

Photograph by National Geographic Channels/ Jeffrey Neira


Bobby Johns is a member of one of Manhattan's most prominent Romani, or Gypsy, families. He is the second-oldest son of Bob Sr. and Tina. He has four brothers: Eric (the oldest and next in line to lead the family), Nicky (who has a short fuse and is always fighting), Joey and Jack. Of the brothers, Bobby is considered the most business wise. His five children include Sable, Chris, Sean and two youngest daughters, Amanda and Vivian, who both wish to be actors. The newest Johns is grandson Tyler.

Q: What made you decide to tell your story for the first time and allow cameras into your lives?

I wanted people to know what Romani were really like, and break the stereotypes.

Q:  How difficult was the decision?  Describe the complexities to get everyone on board.

The decision was very difficult because I knew I would have a hard time with my family and other Rom due to the secretive ways of my culture.  I wasn't even sure if I could get it done but I knew this would be a great opportunity for all Romani, especially my daughters Amanda and Vivian.

It was difficult to get people to open up on camera because the Roma have been taken advantage of and discriminated against by the gaje (non-Gypsies) for centuries. Roma don't trust anyone, and all my peers said it could never be done.

But I knew that now was the time to go against the grain and convince my people to open up, because I saw the younger generation was more open to change than the previous generations.

Q:  What does being a Gypsy, or Rom, mean to you?

It means everything to me, it's who I am. We've existed for thousands of years without a country, a place to call home, and were still one of the closest-knit communities in the world.  To uphold these traditions, community and family ties, means everything to me, it's in my blood.  I do feel our thousand-year culture can be preserved while we move forward into the modern world.

Q:  What does being a Johns mean to you?

My family is a very well respected family in the Romani community.  My father, Bob, has helped Gypsies all over the United States and has kept the clans together through his negotiating skills.  All Gypsies in the United States know who my father is and what he has done for the community.  He is respected and feared.

It is important to me as a Johns to uphold the standards my father has created; he set the path for my family to follow and I wish to follow in his footsteps.  It is important for me to be progressive, but at the same time it is important to uphold the Johns name, and every day is a struggle to do so.

Q:  What do you hope people will take away after watching the series?

I hope people will realize that Gypsies are much more than the stereotype makes us out to be.  I want people to learn something about our tightly knit community and how we operate so that maybe people will realize that Gypsies are just like everyone else and we just have a certain way of doing things.

While our ways may seem foreign due to our highly secretive nature, we ultimately follow the same values as any other culture: We are all about family.  Over the years, especially recently, Gypsies fear assimilating due to the negative stereotypes and discrimination they face from the outside world.  I hope the series will break those stereotypes.

Q:  What are you excited about and what do you fear when it premieres?

I am excited to see my father's dream come true.  My father, Bob Sr., really wanted this series for his children and grandchildren.  He wanted opportunities to open up for my family.  I hope this series does open up opportunities for my family and other Gypsies in our community.

I fear that the American people may misunderstand our ways and not completely accept it at first, but at the same time I hope the public will eventually realize that we are a culture and a race of people that have existed for thousands of years and our ways are the only way we know - we are proud of who we are.

I also fear that many Romani will not understand that my family is doing the series to help my community progress and become more accepted.  People fear what they do not know.

Q:  How would you describe yourself in relation to your brothers?

I am the second-oldest brother and considered the most business wise out of all my brothers.  They normally ask me for my final approval on most business deals even though my brother Eric is the eldest and next in line to be head of the family after our dad.

I get along with my brothers but at the same time we fight all the time.  Even though I am not next in line to take over the family, I receive the respect as if I was next in line.

Q:  You seem willing to slightly push or bend Gypsy rules - why is that?

I am willing to bend the rules, mostly with assimilating into American culture, usually whatever will give my family the most opportunities.  Romani are very secretive and tend to avoid any contact with outsiders; this is where I feel Rom are not being progressive.  In order to move forward, the Rom have to realize they have to learn and grow with the people surrounding them.

Q:  Do you have any regrets in the way your children have been raised?

I have no regrets in how my children have been raised; they go to school and I give them a choice on how to lead their lives.  While we are a very closed-off community and our ways tend to be the way, I try my best to educate my children.  I also feel that the way I have been raised is good for my children; there is nothing wrong with being Rom and staying Rom.  I love my community and want my children to love what I love about my community as well.

Q:  What are your goals and dreams for your children?

I want my children to follow their dreams and not feel tied down by any of the negative connotations that come along with being Rom.  I want them to aim for the stars and get all they can out of life.  Amanda and Vivian wish to become actresses and I support it 100 percent.  I will do anything to have my children's dreams come true.

Deb Grimwood
Deb Grimwood

I am Romani gypsy I saw a picture on my fathers wall a lady standing next to a canvas caravan I asked who is that and he said your great great grand mother and I'm the one with the black eyes I only have to look at someone and can way them up in seconds and when I asked my dad he said I have the gift and am from Liverpool England can't read or write but have done fantastic in my life thank god what horoscope are you xxx