Glendale Romani gypsy teens share arranged marriage on docuseries

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Photos courtesy of FYI/”Arranged”

Many kids are told that their parents know best, but two Glendale teens really had to trust that was true as they prepared for their arranged marriage in September.

What was it like to marry a stranger at such a young age? Viewers can find out by watching their journey on FYI’s new docuseries, “Arranged,” which follows this Romani gypsy couple from Queens, as well as a southern couple in their 20s from the “Bible belt” and an Indian couple in their 30s in Beverly Hills, California.

Maria and Christian Miller of Queens, both 18, barely knew each other when their parents arranged their marriage. When Christian found out who he was going to marry, he “made an effort” to get to know Maria by secretly contacting her online, because he “didn’t want to go in totally blind,” he said. But he didn’t learn much.

“Her mother and father would constantly be watching her, so she couldn’t really get to the computer all the time; she couldn’t get to the phone all the time,” Christian said. “So how much can you really learn about a person on the computer and talking for only a few minutes?”

Before the wedding, Christian was hoping “that a lot of people would come and that everything would go smoothly,” he said. Even though there were no formal invitations and family and friends learned about the wedding through phone calls and word of mouth, if there aren’t a couple hundred people in attendance, “that’s a big embarrassment at a gypsy wedding.”

Maria arrived at the party — which took place before the actual wedding ceremony — wearing an orange dress that her parents bought for her. Then, she changed into a blue dress from her mother-in-law and father-in-law to symbolize that “I’m no longer my family’s; I’m their daughter now and part of their family,” she said. Finally, she changed into her white wedding dress, also bought by the parents of the groom.

After the wedding, Maria would be moving in with Christian, his parents, Michael and Nina, and his younger brothers.

“My whole life is about to change in the blink of an eye and I can’t even believe it,” Maria said on the docuseries before her wedding. “I’m leaving my family to live with a total new family that I just don’t know and I’m really, really scared.”

The couple with Christian's parents, Nina and Michael
The couple with Christian’s parents, Nina and Michael

Yet this experience is “normal” for Romani gypsies, Michael said, noting that his ancestors’ marriages have been arranged for generations. “And they’re all to death do they part,” Nina said on the first episode.

“It’s normal for us,” Michael said. “At 17, 18, 19, your mind is set for marriage, and so it’s not anything new … you’re expecting it.”

There are “maybe a couple thousand” people in the Romani gypsy community in New York City, Michael said, about 500 of whom live in Queens.

“We’re a small community and we all know each other,” said Michael, who grew up in Richmond Hill and used to live in Middle Village. His family and others in the community are spread out around those areas, as well as Rego Park, Forest Hills, Howard Beach and Ozone Park.

The couple hopes that their inclusion on the show will help bust stereotypes about their culture.

“I just want everyone to know that gypsy people are normal people,” Maria said. “We’re all about tradition. We’re all about family. We all love each other. We’re all a happy family.”

“The stereotypes are pretty bad,” Christian added. “We’re not cons; we’re not thieves. We’re nothing like that. We’re normal people. We want to show them we’re a good, clean-cut family and there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid of us. We want to show that we’re not the way people think of us, the way they portray us on other TV shows.”

And his father, who has seen generations of long, happy marriages, wants “to show our traditions. We do arranged marriages that work. If you listen to your father and mother it works out,” he said. “Maria and Christian have been married for six months and they’re doing good.”

“Arranged” premieres on Tuesday, April 14, at 10:15 p.m. on FYI.