Emilio Israel Cortes, original from Alicante, was raised in the 1000 homes, one Ghetto in the south of the Valencian community.
Surrounded by a community that suffered the highest statistic on scholar abandon, he managed eventually to become lawyer and to introduce himself in the world of the public administration. Meanwhile, he sold clothes in the streets as most of Roma in Spain for many years, to sustain his family and pay his studies.
Today he works as adviser in the office of the council of Social welfare, which makes him the Roma who is probably closest to political power in Spain. He also assumes the coordination of European projects of the councilor, and is the main contact man for many institutions and the government of Valencia.
“My father taught me two things about my identity which were over any other consideration: to marry a Roma woman, and to have a proper marriage according the tradition which includes the ritual of the “Pañuelo”, related with the virginity and purity of the bride. Today probably I could discuss many things with him but that was my Roma education, and I’m happy with it. I also grew up in a Christian community and I had a very clear identity as a child with just 7 or 8 years old — I was Roma and Christian.”
His confession had started some hours earlier, but I didn’t record any of it out of courtesy. Israel was the person who introduced me to the world of activism in Spain 5 years ago, when I was still selling socks in the streets of Alfafar. We shared many things in our education and background and his work with grassroots youngsters was one of the reasons why I’m making this trip today.
He received Bekah and me very kindly in his office, a big crystal building which calls the attention of the whole center of Valencia, where many deputies and ministries perform their everyday work.
Later on, Paqui his wife prepare a dinner for us in their house, with my disastrous help cutting the tomatoes. The 5 years old child of Israel was dancing around us showing us many toys and enriching our afternoon, but some though came to my mind recurrently — Israel seemed more mature, dressed like a politician, in contrast with the Israel who I meet 5 years ago with long hair, short pants, a real Roma Hippy.“Time passes my friend, and in the position in which I found myself today I’m forced to look like a politician.”
But is the administration able to change something? I made for both of us a question which was maybe rhetorical…
This man, who arrived to the political world after a whole life of sacrifices, had an uncomfortable truth to share.
“The administration has no place for the Roma reality. The way the system is designed, the way it works. I arrived the political world believing it was the only way, but today I believe Revolution and self government are the practical future for Roma, the supposed political progress that a lot of people defend is a real utopia.”
“The NGO system for Roma has failed. It has failed because NGOs and associations are meant for neighborhoods and local initiatives, to put together people with similar interests. But this doesn’t respond to the structural needs of Roma people, who require true representation. I defend that Roma NGO’s should disappear, or at least reinvent themselves.”
It is 03.00 in the morning, the night just passed flying. Paqui will kill us, tomorrow my friend and his wife wake up early, but I could not stop myself to ask for a final statement to Israel. He fell into silence and tilted his head down, then he look me smiling and said:
“The Roma people are the most extraordinary people of all time, we just need to discover ourselves.”